Anti-Slavery Day 2023: Tackling Modern Slavery within the food & drink industry

Anti-Slavery Day 2023: Tackling Modern Slavery within the food & drink industry

Today is anti-slavery day, raising awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery. It is estimated that at present, 50 million people live in conditions of modern slavery.

Modern slavery is the recruitment, transport, receipt and harbouring of people to exploit their labour, and it affects almost all parts of the world. Globally, it’s estimated that there are over 40 million men, women and children in situations of modern-day slavery today. These victims, found in factories, construction sites, and fisheries are forced to work for little or no pay, deprived of their freedom and often subjected to unimaginable suffering.

The majority of agricultural goods we buy have been through a growing, harvesting, production, packaging and distribution process known as the supply chain. Supply chains begin with a grower or producer and end with the finished product purchased by consumers. Modern slavery can be found at any stage within these supply chains.


Statistics of modern slavery in the UK
  • 45.8 million people in some form of modern slavery
  • 7.6 million people in forced labour
  • Around 27.6 million people are believed to be trapped in forced labour worldwide in various forms.


Modern Slavery in the Food and FMCG Industry

Modern slavery in the food and Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry is a grave and complex issue that involves various forms of exploitation and human rights abuses. This sector encompasses a wide range of products, including food, beverages, personal care items, and household products, and it often involves complex supply chains that make it challenging to monitor and address labour abuses. Here are some key aspects of modern slavery in the food and FMCG industry:


Forced Labor

Many workers in the industry, particularly those in lower-tier supply chains, are vulnerable to forced labour practices. They may be lured into jobs with false promises, trapped by debt bondage, or subjected to physical coercion to work in deplorable conditions.


Child Labour

Child labour is a pervasive issue in the food and FMCG industry, particularly in the production of agricultural commodities such as cocoa, coffee, and palm oil. Children may be forced or coerced into working long hours in hazardous conditions.


Migrant Workers

Migrant workers are often at higher risk of exploitation due to their vulnerable status. They may lack legal documentation, making them susceptible to exploitation and abuse, including underpayment or non-payment of wages.


Unhealthy Working Conditions

Workers in this industry may face poor working conditions, including inadequate safety measures, exposure to harmful chemicals, and long hours without proper breaks or compensation for overtime.


Subcontracting and Complex Supply Chains

The food and FMCG industry often relies on extensive supply chains that include numerous subcontractors and suppliers. This complexity can make it difficult to trace the source of products and hold those responsible for labour abuses accountable.


Lack of Transparency

Limited transparency in supply chains can make it challenging for consumers, companies, and regulatory authorities to identify and address instances of modern slavery.


Tackling Modern Slavery in the Food and FMCG Industry

It is essential to establish or refine internal and external policies relating to modern slavery. These policies encompass codes of conduct, annual compliance certifications, standard contract language, due diligence questionnaires, and supplier statements of conformity.

Procurement practices should be reevaluated and customised to align with a more responsible approach. This involves a thorough examination of cost impact, harvest forecasting, and supplier workload management.

Efforts in supply chain mapping should strive for complete product traceability, spanning from the initial farm-produced item to the finished goods. This comprehensive approach facilitates effective risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities to modern slavery at all levels. This process should engage various company departments, including legal, corporate social responsibility, supply chain management, risk management, and human resources. Subsequently, comprehensive training should be offered to employees and business partners at all levels to enhance their awareness of this issue.

Investigative audits must be conducted among both new and existing suppliers to illuminate the real conditions faced by workers along the supply chain. These audits should verify:

  • All workers possess written employment contracts in a language they comprehend.
  • Contracts have not been altered either at the source or destination.
  • Contracts comply with local labour laws.
  • Legal and industry limits on working hours are adhered to.
  • All deductions are outlined in the contract within legal or industry guidelines.
  • Withholding of wages is not tolerated.
  • No restrictions on freedom of movement are in place.
  • Recruitment and brokerage fees paid by workers are within the legal limits established by the workers’ countries of origin.
  • Workers retain copies of their identification documents or have unrestricted access to these documents, should they choose to leave them with their employers for safekeeping.
  • Overcharging or any other practices leading to worker dependence and denial of choice are absent.


Companies should ensure the availability of grievance mechanisms, such as phone apps or third-party hotlines, to allow workers to provide valuable feedback on their working conditions securely.

Implementing capacity development programs is crucial to equip suppliers with the necessary expertise and tools for initiating changes within their business operations, to disseminate this knowledge and responsibilities throughout the supply chain.

Food companies should actively participate in multi-stakeholder initiatives that bring together farmers, workers, civil society, and governments to collectively focus on strategic and practical approaches to reducing modern slavery.

If modern slavery is identified anywhere within an agricultural supply chain, companies must have a well-structured plan in place to address the issue effectively and provide remediation. This plan should include a response that safeguards workers from further harm and offers support, rehabilitation options, and access to both judicial and non-judicial remedies.


Stronger Together – Tackling Modern Slavery in Supply Chain

We’re proud to be partnered with Stronger Together, an impact-driven, not-for-profit organisation providing businesses with practical training, resources, business services and collaborative programmes to create a world where all workers are recruited responsibly and have fair work free from exploitation.

Stronger Together mobilises and facilitates collaboration amongst private sector stakeholders including response and remedy providers, civil society organisations, law enforcement and government.

In observance of Anti-Slavery Day, we are reminded of the urgent need to raise awareness and take action against the grave injustices of human trafficking and modern slavery. It is a solemn reality that, in today’s world, an estimated 50 million individuals endure conditions of modern slavery. This number is an unsettling testament to the persistence of a deeply entrenched issue that spans across the globe.

18th October 2023

Latest News

Sign up to our newsletter for all the latest updates from E3R