The Invisible Supply Chain Issue – Identifying Forced Labour

8th June 2022
By: Joanne Ballard, E.S.G Strategy and Compliance Director

Decent work and economic growth (SDG 8) is an important and wide ranging area within ESG, which I’m going to break down over 2 blogs, beginning with the need for full and productive employment for everyone.

A critical target we’re working towards within SDG 8 is to ‘end modern slavery, trafficking and child labour’. To be clear, Maintel doesn’t employ anyone underage, or pay our staff below a living wage. But that’s not enough – we need to be sure that our suppliers, and our suppliers’ suppliers don’t either. The Modern Slavery Act requires larger companies to proactively manage their supplier relationships, but every business should be examining each layer of their network to ensure we’re not complicit in this growing form of organized crime.

And while this can occur within any industry, the technology sector is open to exploitation and abuse, from the workers mining raw materials for electronic components to those in factories manufacturing, building and preparing them for transportation. These processes may be taking place on different continents and in different time zones, but the welfare of those vulnerable workers is still our responsibility.

We have a duty of care to ensure that those building the technology we sell to our customers receive freedom, fair pay, reasonable working conditions and the same level of regulation and health and safety that we expect for ourselves.

While Maintel has always chosen to partner with companies we believe to have ethical business practices, SDG 8 has encouraged us to have a deeper level of supply chain awareness than ever before.

We still start with our own staff, performing background checks on all new employees to ensure they can legally work in the UK. We are committed to protecting labour rights and promoting safe working environments, and we ensure all staff have access to banking, insurance and financial services by only paying wages through banking systems and offering a financial helpline to all employees.

Additionally, we have published a code of conduct in our Sustainability Report that drives us to meet the relevant regulations with zero fines each year.

Critically, we have increased our supplier contact and cooperation to enhance visibility and transparency into our supply chains. Our supplier management strategy includes background checks, and contractual arrangements with our main suppliers which include the same level of requirement that we have of ourselves. If they do the same down the chain, it’s within our power to identify bad actors and cut them off – indirect involvement and limited knowledge are no longer valid excuses.

To hold ourselves accountable, we actively encourage whistleblowing – there should be no stigma attached to reporting concerns or asking for help. We have confidential helplines for employees, customers and suppliers.

Businesses should run these checks to protect themselves from the financial and legal penalties and reputational damage that can come from inadvertently supporting forced labour, but more importantly they should closely analyse their supply chain because it’s the right thing to do. Nobody should be profiting from human misery, whether knowingly or unwittingly.

It’s due diligence, it’s risk assessment, but it’s also fulfilling a moral obligation.

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