According to a report by Ethical Consumer, a consumer goods rating body, the UK’s ethical industry is now worth a staggering £38bn, twice that of the tobacco sector. The report estimates that over half of the UK population are choosing to avoid buying products and/or services over concerns about ethical reputation, alongside an 8.5% increase in responsibly made goods.
While these statistics are extremely encouraging, they don’t give the full picture of ethical trading in Britain. While sales of electric cars and sustainably sourced fish are on the rise, the number of workers kept in slave-like conditions here in the UK is by no means abating.
In fact, 2016 saw a steep increase in the number of modern slavery victims reported to police. Between 2014-15, the single largest annual increase in cases was recorded – an additional 1,000. We recently blogged about how trafficking and slavery victims aren’t being identified effectively at our UK borders. This indicates there are potential hundreds if not thousands of cases to add to the predicted numbers in 2017.
We want to believe that the rise of ethical consumerism and reputational scandals means that big brands will clean up their global supply chain. And it is really positive that consumers are showing higher demands for ethically made products. But at the same time, brands ranging from Byron Burger to Sports Direct have been guilty of deeply unethical recruitment practices. Car washes, nail salons and labour providers can also be breeding grounds for modern slavery.
These companies aren’t making ethical products themselves, whom consumers are buying more from. It is the rising popularity of those brands which unfortunately might lead us to believe that UK industry is being cleaned up.
In actual fact, it is all the other regular UK businesses lying under the ethical radar who are prone to modern slavery in their supply chains. It is these organisations, starting with complying with Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act, who have the opportunity to demonstrate the same responsible practices as those brands basing their business on ethical foundations from the start.
To help companies move towards sustainable, transparent supply chains, we’ve put together a Modern Slavery Statement checklist outlining 12 key areas to cover for a robust, comprehensive submission to Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act.
It’s not until the number of modern slavery cases starts to decrease as companies become better able to spot the supply chain risks, that we can truly say that UK industry as a whole is becoming more ethical.