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Stop this "crime hidden in plain sight"

Date posted
01 March 2024
Corey Edwards
Estimated reading time
3 minute read

Last week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forum on due diligence in the garment and footwear sector met in Paris. The discussion focused on a global increase in forced labour risks within supply chains and finding ways to kick modern slavery into the history books. Our Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager Corey Edwards was there.

Modern slavery is the major human rights issue of our time. It’s a crime hidden in plain sight, an abuse which fails to command the warranted political and media attention. The day when the fashion sector, for example, though making improvements, becomes fully regulated can’t come soon enough.

Happily, the February forum coincided with the landmark decision by the OECD to open accession discussions with Indonesia, thereby expanding its partner ties when the world is looking to national and international missions to rid the globe of forced labour.

With current global economic crises causing rising living costs and increased poverty, financial desperation on the part of some workers makes them more vulnerable to exploitation. Businesses are encouraged by OECD guidance to “prevent contribution to harm through [building] responsible purchasing practices”.

"Though audit programmes can be effective, they are often tick-boxing exercises which fail to truly reflect the landscape. Comprehensive due diligence, whilst more laborious and costly, helps identify and mitigate supply chain risks and ensures best practice."

Job role

At the Paris forum, industry, trade unions and policymakers met to discuss, among other matters, the EU corporate sustainability due diligence directive. The proposed directive would require large businesses to take reasonable steps to identify and address human rights risks within their supply chains. There were calls for the UK to adopt a harmonised approach, a call which IOSH endorses.


Calls to businesses that came out of the debates included:

  • follow OECD due diligence guidance for responsible business conduct
  • go beyond audits only, with thorough due diligence
  • regular minimum wage reviews to address costs of living and inflationary economies
  • increase empowerment of, and access to, trade unions and collective bargaining
  • more engagement with workers and unions ahead of and during wage setting
  • leverage purchasing practices to set high expectations for suppliers and partners
  • swifter remediation mechanisms
  • build trusted relationships between buyers and suppliers
  • sign up to global frameworks agreements
  • adopt effective mitigations against chemicals, workplace temperatures and flooding
  • transform standards, rather than bear minimum compliance
  • create grievance mechanisms to ensure robust systems and remediation
  • partner with competitors to boost data sharing and transparency
  • educate in-house buyers on the importance of due diligence
  • compel suppliers and partners to improve and harmonise standards.

In the UK, we continue to advocate for a strengthening of our Modern Slavery Act. This sentiment is shared by leading voices such as former prime minister Theresa May and Labour’s shadow minister for violence and safeguarding, Jess Phillips. Similarly, in recent years, the environmental audit committee – comprising cross-party MPs and appointed by the House of Commons – published its report ‘Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability’. The report outlines recommendations:

  • for textile retailers operating internationally to sign up to global framework agreements, and
  • for government to work with industry to increase transparency and trace the source of raw material in garments to tackle social abuses within supply chains.

Modern slavery is not a problem confined to the developing world. There's tens of thousands of instances of modern slavery on British soil and thousands more through the supply chains of our purchases. Our laws should be strengthened, and due consideration ought to be given to using our trade agreements to raise partner countries’ standards. Human trafficking and modern slavery must be consigned to history.

Last updated: 07 March 2024

Corey Edwards

Job role
Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager


  • Economy
  • Governance and compliance
  • People and workforce
  • Procedures and reporting
  • Social sustainability


  • auditing
  • logistics and retail