By Richard Griffiths, chief executive, British Poultry Council
Exploitation of workers is happening in your supply chain. You must begin from the point of assuming it is, and then take all necessary steps to ensure it is found, stamped out, and never allowed to happen again. If this sounds like an overly grim scenario, something that could never happen to you, a problem for less than responsible companies, then you are wrong. When you are wrong in this situation it is peoples’ lives, welfare, and freedom that are at stake. This is a threat that has to be taken seriously, and no-one can take it seriously for you. The good news is that there is help out there.
The BPC has been working with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority since its inception in the mid-2000’s. The GLA is there to not only enforce against exploitation, but also to help and advise companies on best practices. The GLA has matured as an organisation to the point where it is a vital partner for the poultry meat sector.
From any company that has accepted that exploitation is possible in their supply chain the first question is often: “Do I need a GLA license?”. The easy answer to this is that if you are not absolutely sure you don’t then ask the GLA. Even if you’re confident in your human resources practices, even if you know all of your employees personally, even if you’ve been working with them for years, ask the question.
The next question brings in broader concerns, and that is: “Should my suppliers have a GLA license?”. This raises two crucial elements. First that to eliminate exploitation needs a whole supply chain approach, and second that it is not just your business and reputation at risk. This makes it a business-critical issue, and why would you ignore a business-critical issue?
Unfortunately, this is where human sensibilities come into play. The reason modern slavery exists is because the people who instigate it are cunning, and their victims are often so scared and cowed that they will not speak out. Anyone, in any company, who has no experience of this situation is in a difficult position. On the one hand, you don’t want to overlook anything amiss, and on the other you don’t want to be the cause of a difficult working environment or accuse innocent people of very serious crimes.
Unless you can be sure you can spot the signs of someone being exploited (such as unusually withdrawn, dishevelled appearance, lack of ID documentation, multiple workers with the same bank account/mobile number/address), or someone in your operation who is exploiting others, then you have to put sensibilities to one side. Speak to the GLA. Their intelligence network is wider than yours and what you think is inconsequential might be important in a different context.
The bottom line is that having an open and regular relationship with the GLA will help both you and them. To put it bluntly, when a problem happens will you be part of the problem or part of the solution?