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A blog by Harriet Bartlett, Supply Chain Manager at QinetiQ

Following on from the UN's International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on December 2nd, QinetiQ took some time along with several of our Supply Chain Partners to discuss Modern Slavery in the Supply Chain. Specifically actions concerning supplier due diligence, risk management and social auditing in our supply chains.

On 31st January, QinetiQ hosted a Collaborate Event with speakers Catherine Rushforth from Airbus, Craig Melson from techUK and Neil Jackson from BAE, and our very own Hannah Cowley emceed the webinar.

We covered several relevant topics, but started with what the legal and regulatory landscape looks like around modern slavery, forced labour and human rights, not just in the UK but internationally as well. Modern Slavery Statements have now been reported on for several years. But past that there has recently been an update to what is required, now with a Modern Slavery Assessment to be completed as well which includes questions regarding obligations throughout the supply chain. It was agreed across the participants that to move forwards effectively, companies need to be transparent, they need to understand what is being asked and have action plans for these. It is also imperative that global companies understand the legal/regulatory landscape in other countries where they operate, e.g. in the US and recently legislated Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act.

This naturally lead us to discuss that charities such as Unseen and the Salvation Army say that if suppliers claim there is no slavery in their supply chain then they aren't looking hard enough. We discussed the key enablers for delivering modern slavery due diligence in the supply chain. The key takeaway from this subject is that we need to be comfortable having conversations with our suppliers on subjects related to modern slavery, and in turn finding the balance between audit and assurance which will aid in developing relationships with the supply base. These conversations should form part of regular Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) sessions - to encourage accountability. There also needs to be grievance mechanisms for individuals to raise concerns. For example at QinetiQ, we have the capability for internal staff and external stakeholders to Speak Up through our confidential reporting services with all contact details available through our Supplier Code of Conduct and Sustainable Procurement Guide.

Next on the agenda was to cover what effective KPIs can be adopted across our supply chain, and if our speakers have any success stories of KPIs that have made a difference in their organisation. Modern slavery training may not be a measure of effectiveness as completion does not equate to performance, or even understanding. Neil, from BAE explained that they have a large number of Tier 1 suppliers and they do risk based assurance, they review the global slavery index (which is available to all) to see where their supply chains are based and then measure the relevant government response.

To close we discussed what best practice looks like, this included a great case study on the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) for driving intel and knowledge sharing in the sector brought to us by Craig Melson. The RBA was put together originally by the technology sector but has extended out to anyone in manufacturing. It was set up in response to some common concerns such as: cartel law issues and bullying/price fixing. All companies who are in the alliance adopt and abide by the code of conduct, which includes management systems, environment, governance, health and safety and treatment of workers in the supply chain. Another aim of the RBA is to reduce duplication, they share audit results and best practice using their RBA Compliance Audits.

A key takeaway from these conversations that for real change to be enacted companies need to set the tone from the top and provide necessary budget to complete due diligence. This will set a precedent throughout the rest of the company and become part of the ethos and culture.

Here is a list of the resources which were discussed on this webinar: