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Consumer behaviour in relation to modern slavery

Project identifying effective ways to mobilise consumers against modern slavery.

Recent media exposés, such as the revelations of the working conditions in Boohoo’s Leicester garment factories or forced labour of Uyghurs in China’s cotton industry, have attracted widespread interest towards modern slavery in global and local supply chains.

This has been more acute not only by the fact that exploitative practices might affect products widely used in the UK, such as, medical gloves used by the NHS or clothes sold by some of the most popular mainstream brands, but also by their existence in the UK, affecting local communities and making them more vulnerable to the spread coronavirus as people on precarious contracts have been pushed to continue working despite lockdowns.

Apart from the increased attention on businesses to take responsibility for their supply chains and the Government for holding them to account, attention has also turned to consumers and how they could use their consumer power to demand more responsibility from the brands they use.

A research team from Royal Holloway University of London, University of Glasgow and University of Melbourne explored the question of whether consumers could have a greater role to play in holding business to account for preventing modern slavery in their operations. Although much has been made of high-profile cases where consumer behaviour has contributed to changes in corporate behaviour, such as the use of paper cups or the body shape of toy dolls, limited progress has been noted in the case of modern slavery and other exploitative practices.

The project assessed the factors underpinning the gaps between consumer attitudes, intentions and actual consumption behaviour in the context of modern slavery and how consumer citizens can be mobilised to address in the modern slavery context.

To this end, the research carried out a comprehensive review of academic research and publications by practitioner organisations that have been published in the context of consumer behaviour and its impact on changes in corporate behaviour.

The research is also explored what interventions can be effective in engaging consumers in effective action on modern slavery. It identified case studies of successful public campaigns and interview practitioners working in this sphere, identifying best practice for effective campaigns and policy that can mobilise the consumer most effectively, adding pressure on brands to take responsibility for preventing modern slavery in their supply chains more seriously.

This project was commissioned under the Modern Slavery PEC Responsive Research mechanism.

Project team: Prof Chatzidakis, Royal Holloway University of London; Prof Shaw University of Glasgow; Dr Carrington University of Melbourne.