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Challenges in supply chain management posed by Covid-19

Project exploring effective methods to build firms’ commitment to addressing modern slavery in supply chains in the face of the pandemic.

Businesses have a vital role to play in addressing modern slavery, through identifying and preventing risks in in their supply chains. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for businesses in managing their supply chains across the globe.

Supply chains have been disrupted, which may increase the risk of exploitation of vulnerable workers. At the same time, many businesses are focusing on securing supplies to make sure they can keep trading. Businesses are contending with difficult trade-offs to secure their financial viability, satisfy customer demands and protect their employees.

There is currently very limited evidence about how businesses are managing the supply chain pressures caused by Covid-19 alongside their obligations to address modern slavery risks in supply chains. In the UK, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 places a requirement on all large businesses to publish an annual statement setting out the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their business and supply chains.

A research team from the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, the Chartered Institute for Procurement and Supply (CIPS), as well as the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and Fifty-Eight, two NGOs dedicated to tackling the root causes of modern slavery, carried out research to explore the challenges faced by businesses in addressing modern slavery in supply chains, whilst also responding to Covid-19 disruptions.

The research:

  • Investigated the impact of Covid-19 on business’ prioritisation of addressing modern slavery in their supply chains.
  • Identified effective methods for building commitment to addressing modern slavery, when other commercial priorities may influence sourcing decisions.

The research employed a large-scale quantitative survey of supply chain professionals and business leaders of firms in scope of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requirements.

In line with the vision of the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, the research involved strong collaboration with policymakers in the UK Government, including the Crown Commercial Service and the Home Office Modern Slavery Unit.

The insights from the research will assist policymakers in understanding if, and how, businesses’ response to modern slavery has changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which will inform wider planned policy changes as set out in the Government’s response to the consultation on transparency in supply chains legislation.

The research also generated best practice recommendations and guidance for supply chain managers, promoting the benefits of transparency, with a strong focus on workforce protection in all tiers of supply chains. The guidance has been disseminated among commercial buyers within UK Government and by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply to their membership of 200,000 professional buyers across the world.

This project was funded as part of the Modern Slavery PEC call for research on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on modern slavery.

Project team: Dr Bruce Pinnington, Dr Joanne Meehan, University of Liverpool Management School. Dr Alexander Trautrims, University of Nottingham.