Tackling modern slavery

Today’s blog, to mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, is by Jaya Chakrabarti MBE, CEO of TISC Report and President of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative. (Copyright: PA Photos)

Seven years ago I met an inspirational chap, Andrew Wallis (now with a well earned OBE). Andrew was (and still is) the CEO of the award winning anti-slavery charity Unseen, and he explained to me what human trafficking and modern slavery were. I was horrified, having led an incredibly sheltered life, as middle class Indian girls tend to lead. But I was finally able to understand where the street kids I played with in my childhood in my grandmother’s village had gone. They didn’t move. They were most likely trafficked across the border of Bangladesh and India.

I committed my geeky data skills that day to playing my part in putting an end to the systems that facilitated such terrible exploitation and misery for countless human beings. It was when, in my head, TISCreport.org (our Transparency in Supply Chains reporting platform) was born. 

We began, as data scientists, by monitoring compliance with the newly enacted Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015. Data flooded in from Companies House, Open Corporates, and a number of ethical companies willing to share their statements and their supplier lists. Nearly 18,000 large corporations in the UK were in scope, and through them, their supply chains. We had a huge task ahead. 

Six years later, we now know so much more about both the world of compliance and its connection with what happens to workers at the end of those supply chains. Exploitation happens not just out there in faraway lands but also much closer to home. TISCreport.org became a place where we were able to start to see patterns in corporate behaviour, and how they affected workers rights. Our systems were able to see things coming, from the collapse of Carillion to the reports of modern slavery in Boohoo’s supply chains in Leicester. 

It fills me with pride to say that my city, Bristol, was the first to commit to supply chain transparency in the UK, and in fact the world. Many have followed the lead we have set. The Welsh Government, with whom we work closely, has built upon Section 54 with its own ethical employment code of practice for all 22 Welsh local authorities. The Coop Party’s Modern Slavery Charter also encouraged many of its councils to sign up, with Bristol among the first to sign. 

Now, as 2021 comes to a close, we understand that we can use the same supply chains to amplify and accelerate our environmental actions. As it turns out, if we need to rewire the planet, supply chains are a good place to start! 

We may not have ended exploitation yet, but our data and the work of countless others has proven the interconnectedness between social and environmental justice. We’ve never been in a better position to take action on both. We just need to make what we do in 2022 count.

If your organisation wants to join the corporate transparency movement, you can join tiscreport.org for free. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.