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Visibility in long and complex supply chains

Research exploring the impact of visibility of business supply chains on managing forced labour risks.

Published outputs from this project:

Despite increasing recognition of the importance of corporate action tackling modern slavery, many organisations still fail to prioritise, or act on, modern slavery risks in their supply chains.

Even where companies are proactively working to address modern slavery in their operations, limited visibility of complex supply chains and challenges engaging with and influencing actors in lower tiers, can make effective action difficult. This has been exacerbated by supply chain pressures brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Better understanding of the link between supply chain governance and the effectiveness of measures to address them promotes good corporate engagement with modern slavery issues through supply chain governance, and improved outcomes on modern slavery. It can also provide companies and investors with the practical insights on ‘what works’ to make genuine progress in addressing modern slavery risks.

Research led by the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, in partnership with the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI) and Shareaction, will explore the relationship between companies’ understandings of their supply chains, and the effectiveness of actions taken to address modern slavery.

The research will conduct a comparison between industrial companies, where previous research by WDI found lower levels of understanding of supply chains, and utilities companies, which generally have a much more comprehensive understanding. The project will both rectify a knowledge gap on how modern slavery manifests as a result of these companies’ practices, as well as providing the opportunity for cross-sectoral learnings.

The project will use the WDI’s annual survey of companies’ workforce practices, in combination with focus groups with companies, business responsibility supporting organisations and worker representatives to identify the range of understandings in UK companies of effective supply chain governance, and to identify and group different approaches and highlight best practice.

The research will produce a research report and policy briefing, as well as engaging with relevant companies, investors and policymakers to promote findings.

Researchers: Alexander Trautrims, Oana Burcu, Faiza Zafar (University of Nottingham), Charlotte Lush (Workforce Disclosure Initiative)