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Modern slavery

Harnessing the power of data to put an end to modern slavery

Published on by Jo Webb

There is a business saying that what gets measured gets managed. But how can we measure and manage the modern slavery issue, which is complex and often hidden deep in global supply chains?

Despite increasing exposure to modern slavery risks, credible data on the issue is still hard to find. Efforts to tackle the modern slavery problem are limited not only by the lack of data but also by its quantity, type, accessibility or information on the risks and individuals.

According to the latest Global Slavery Index, there are more than 45 million people in some form of modern slavery worldwide, the largest proportion of which are estimated to be held in forced labour. This is a significant increase from the 2014 Index estimate of 35 million. Although there are suggestions that improved methodologies and measurement are leading to better estimates, discrepancies in global slavery data show that the extent of the issue is still hard to quantify.

The role of multinational corporations

Not only should the impact on society as a whole be considered, the risk of reputational damage and loss of consumer confidence in your organisation, along with its products and services, is a reality if your organisation is linked to modern slavery. Customers, business partners and investors may think twice about engaging with a company that cannot demonstrate the cleanliness of their supply chain or business relationships.

Social media and the regulatory landscape

There are two factors at work which are making life tougher for organisations.

Firstly, brands are more than ever in the hands of consumers and civil society organisations, who are quick to use social media to highlight perceived failings.

Hardly a day goes by without a company being dragged into the media spotlight because of actions within their supply chain. For example, the retailers whose garden furniture comes from illegal logging in Southeast Asia or the supermarket chain selling fish that’s unwittingly sourced from Thai suppliers using forced labour.

Even recent sporting events are seeing reputations tarnished by third parties (e.g., a Kenyan official was sent home from the Olympics amid allegations he was willing to offer athletes prior warning of drug tests in return for money).

Secondly, both the volume of regulation and the power of regulators are growing.

With regulations such as the UK Modern Slavery Act and the US Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act – banning imports of goods made with forced labour into the US – the modern slavery issue has risen up the corporate agenda.

“Multinational companies can play an essential role in the fight against forced labor: They have the power to trigger immediate change for workers by simply switching suppliers, by enforcing better auditing and by increasing accountability.”

– Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Manhattan District Attorney, in “Putting Human Trafficking Out of Business”

However, the analysis of modern slavery reporting so far shows that companies are still largely failing to address the root causes of the issue, focusing broadly on policy making and top-line risk assessment.

Is it because companies aren’t aware of the extent of the risks or that they don’t have the data?

Although modern slavery does leave a data footprint, it is difficult to detect and to report because there is lack of hard data. As a consequence, companies that use data to inform their risk assessments are also likely to be drastically underestimating the risk of slavery in their supply chains.

So how can companies get data on modern slavery?

Thomson Reuters research shows a high correlation between money laundering and slavery risk, and corruption and slavery risk, thereby offering the opportunity to utilise other data sets that can be a proxy for modern slavery.

At some point, the proceeds of slavery will emerge in the financial system and both financial institutions and corporations may be unconsciously doing business with individuals or criminal organisations that exploit communities and individuals across the globe. Knowing that a country has a high corruption risk and spotting money laundering risk flags could be a starting point for modern slavery due diligence. As part of a wider risk-based approach, this allows organisations to bucket suppliers into risk categories and therefore adopt appropriate levels of due diligence to screen third parties.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration is essential, including working with leading NGOs to provide guidance and data analysis to uncover the links between forced labour and labour trafficking in supply chains and other crimes such as corruption. Gathering and sharing intelligence on the intersection of global financial systems and supply chains is crucial. The increase in anti-slavery regulations for businesses, anti-money laundering directives and awareness-raising initiatives for the financial services industry on spotting proceeds of illicit funds provide the sweet spot for businesses and the financial services industry to jointly tackle human trafficking.

Data tools are essential for companies to take action to investigate, improve and eradicate slavery risks in their supply chains by extending due diligence to identify whom they are doing business with and understand how modern slavery risks intersect.

Figure 1. The high correlation between money laundering and slavery risk

Slavery Index
Source: Thomson Reuters Country Risk Data

Effective action

Thomson Reuters World-Check® risk intelligence helps provide organisations with the data they need to effectively screen against risks including sanctions, politically exposed persons, bribery and corruption, negative media, ultimate beneficial ownership, environmental crime, slavery and human rights abuse. World-Check helps make sense of the vast amounts of open source information which can be used to uncover instances of human trafficking and slavery and already provides clients with access to over 63,000 profiles relating to human trafficking and other human rights abuses.

We also work with government agencies to help them access information on bribery and corruption and on terrorism financing. Increasingly, these also link with human trafficking as highlighted in Thomson Reuters participation in a September United Nations event in New York and our contribution to the UN University 10-point plan of ideas for the UN Security Council: “Fighting Human Trafficking in Conflict.” It calls for global cooperation, not only between governments but also between companies and campaigning groups, spanning the public, private and voluntary sectors to create a united, global effort to end human trafficking.

Rigorous checking

Vital data sets including legal name, date of birth, sanctions and criminal charges are collated from over 100,000 reputable sources, covering more than 240 countries in over 60 local languages.

Using more than 200 research analysts, World-Check’s approach is labour-intensive because fully automated “data scraping” services just don’t have the same impact, particularly in countries with less centrally held public information or press freedom.

Vital connections

Our research analysts search for data at a local level and in local languages, bringing their skill and expertise in spotting otherwise hidden links.

For example, using World-Check data, analysts have identified key trends around human trafficking.

View the interactive chord diagram in Figure 2, Global Human Trafficking, 2000-2015. The diagram illustrates the number of traffickers (organisations or individuals) that have been researched by the World-Check team where the flow of human trafficking between countries has been identified. Only the top 125 source countries are shown.

Figure 2: Global Human Trafficking, 2000-2015

Figure 2: Global Human Trafficking, 2000-2015
Source: Thomson Reuters World-Check. View the full size infographic to learn more.

We are also building a proof-of-concept Slavery Data Platform, aggregating data about forced labour worldwide from campaigning organisations on the ground. We need to develop innovative ways of working together such as this in order to uncover new sources of information and to share the ones that exist.

So look outside of the box – don’t just look for issues of forced labour. Complement data sets with those on anti-money laundering and corruption. In addition, look for red flags such as lack of contracts and vulnerable workers. By ensuring you are not filtering out elements of important information, you will be able to see the bigger holistic picture to help eradicate the billion-dollar slavery industry. Technology-driven intelligence can play a crucial role.


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