New study identifies innovative approaches to tackle forced labour in global supply chains

A major new report published today proposes new policy interventions to tackle previously unaddressed root causes of exploitative work conditions.

Confronting Root Causes: Forced Labour in Global Supply Chains’, is published by researchers from Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, an organisation that studies labour exploitation, in partnership with SPERI. Dr Genevieve LeBaron, leader of SPERI’s Labour and Work in the Global Political Economy research programme, is the lead author of the report.

It presents new evidence based on empirical and high-level analysis of current global initiatives to tackle labour exploitation in global supply chains. New analysis has found that current global labour initiatives are failing to address the growing problem of forced labour in global supply chains.

Dr Genevieve LeBaron: “There is a disconnect between the root causes of severe labour exploitation and the solutions that government and industry are advocating. Most ‘solutions’ to forced labour in global supply chains fail to tackle underlying problems and practices that create a business demand for forced labour, like low prices, irresponsible sourcing practices, outsourcing, and the uneven distribution of value along supply chains.  Meaningful solutions to forced labour in global supply chains need to confront these root causes.’

Dr Neil Howard, a co-author of the report “Globalisation’s promise was to pull people out of poverty by integrating them into the world market and offering them decent work. It hasn’t delivered. Today, hundreds of millions of people are unemployed; more than 75% of the global workforce is on temporary or informal contracts; the ranks of the working poor are expanding daily; the provision of social and labour protection has been reduced; migrant rights are under threat; and exploitative as well as forced labour appear endemic in a number of industries.”

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Ensure that anti-slavery initiatives tackle the root causes of forced labour in global supply chains.
  • Give workers and workers’ organisations a central and meaningful role in the design and enforcement of supply chain governance initiatives, modelled after successful worker-driven social responsibility initiatives.
  • Expand the budget and remit of labour inspectorates, so that governments have capacity to enforce the laws on their books.
  • Ensure that government anti-slavery policies like the UK Modern Slavery Act is not undermined by policy in other areas, such as immigration policy or labour market regulation.

The new 12-part report provides policymakers, journalists, scholars and activists with a roadmap for understanding the political economy of forced labour in today’s ‘global value chain (GVC) world’. The report presents analysis of four ‘supply side’ dynamics that contribute to creating a global pool of workers vulnerable to exploitation: poverty, discrimination, absent labour protections and restrictive migration regimes. And on the ‘demand side’, the report analyses the concentration of corporate power, outsourcing, irresponsible sourcing practices and governance gaps.

Download the report here.