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Fighting Modern Slavery in the Charity Supply Chain

Fighting Modern Slavery
10 December, 2019

Today marks Human Rights Day, which honours the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s also a day on which the charity sector should evaluate its own role in ensuring human rights, namely as it relates to the charity supply chain. 

All too often, charitable merchandise is made with the intention of doing good, when in reality the manufacturing process may violate the human rights of workers and children. (Recall from not-too-distant memory the case of Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign in which t-shirts were revealed to have been made at a factory where women were paid little and suffered verbal abuse.) Here, we look at the importance of Human Rights Day and how charities can play a larger role in ensuring their products are made in a humane and ethical way. 

Modern Slavery

Modern slavery encompasses slavery, servitude and forced or bonded labour and human trafficking – it’s a crime and a serious violation of fundamental human rights. The human rights charity Anti-Slavery International reports an estimated 40.3 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery, a quarter of whom are children. 

Modern slavery, unfortunately, remains a real and present risk when it comes to charities and their supply chains. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 21 million people are in forced labour situations, making it one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. Complicating matters are the many forms of modern slavery, from a lack of basic human rights to employers holding deposits or identity papers from workers.

  • What can my charity do? Know how to recognise the red flags, including prices that look too good to be true. Often, these low price points are the result of cost-cutting measures that force workers to put in long hours and meet unrealistic quotas. Only work with suppliers that have – and follow – a Modern Slavery Statement.

Child Labour

The United Nations defines child labour as work for which the child is either too young or, because of the nature or conditions, is altogether unacceptable for children. The ILO estimates that 218 million children are engaged in such types of work, around the world. Unfortunatley , even though child labour is forbidden in most countries, it remains a pervasive problem in today’s merchandise supply chains, even those that serve reputable charities and organisations. 


  • What can my charity do? Seek a supplier who can ensure that all workers meet minimum age requirements, adhere to international standards for acceptable working hours and manage facilities in which the physical, mental and moral well-being of children is respected.


Fair Working Conditions

Where is your charity merchandise made? Bangladesh and China are popular supplier locations, often because they can offer lower wages than in other countries. However these facilities – which exist around the world – often pay workers significantly below minimum wage standards or even force overtime hours to increase the company’s profits. 

While the rules vary by country, industry and national legal standards, the baseline rule is that workers should not exceed 48 hours per week, with at least one day off for every seven-day period. If workers do have an option of overtime, this should be voluntary and paid at a higher rate. 

  • What can my charity do? Know where your supplier is based and research the local working conditions standards. Then, make sure your supplier is adhering to these rules – ask for clear statements or documentation. If your supplier can’t articulate a stance and doesn’t comply with key rules, refuse to work with that company.

Safe Working Conditions

The conditions in which your charitable merchandise is being made is also of critical concern. Workers have the right to a safe and healthy environment, no matter where or what they produce. This means a safe physical environment and also a space without discrimination, harassment or victimisation. 

Chances are that some of your charity merchandise is made in another country, perhaps one with a developing economy – and often this complicates things. Sometimes, a factory will even change the production location without the supplier’s knowledge. If this is the case, how is your charity to know about it, if the supplier doesn’t even know?

  • What can my charity do? Ensuring safe working conditions might require an independent audit by your charity, throughout the production process. This might help you identify and resolve any ethical issues before they become a larger problem.

It sounds daunting, but knowing how to ensure that you have good, ethical suppliers is of paramount importance. Take it step by step. First, download The Charity’s Guide to Ethical Sourcing to learn more about ethical issues in today’s supply chains. 

Charities can take a proactive approach by becoming more informed of the issues in ethical manufacturing and developing long-term relationships with trustworthy and reputable suppliers. It starts with charities developing their own ethical policies and asking the right questions of their suppliers. Doing so will also bolster trust in your charity and protect your reputation among your supporters and funders. At Rocket Charities, this is something we care about deeply, and we can help you develop a plan to find the most reputable suppliers. Together, we can – and must – put forth a unified effort to end modern slavery in the charity supply chain.

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