With Black Friday upon us, the peak season for consumer businesses has well and truly kicked off. Businesses the world over are responding to meet the wave of increased consumer demand. Despite the rising cost of living and continuing supply chain disruptions, the predictions are that spending will be high.  

Increases in worker exploitation and modern slavery in supply chains are a real risk during this period. This need not be the case. Manufacturers, retailers and suppliers can choose to uphold and prioritise best practice and vigilance at all levels of their operations, and help ensure this peak shopping season is a time of safe period for workers. 

Take a look at Slave-Free Alliance’s list of potential risks and how you can help mitigate and avoid them this season.  

Engage with temporary labour agencies on social sustainability

In adjusting to fluctuations in workload, hiring temporary workers is common practice over the peak season. This year is no different. In the UK, Sainsbury’s have taken on 18,000 additional staff, Tesco 15,000, and Boots 10,000. Many workers are sourced from labour agencies, who carry out hiring operations on behalf of the employer. For companies, this is a convenient service ensuring business can run as usual. 

However, convenience can disguise risk. The inclusion of a third-party in the hiring process can reduce transparency. Businesses are not always able to reliably verify whether agencies are adhering to compliance obligations – given the pressures of the peak season, shortcuts can lead to slipping standards. As such, preventable cases of modern slavery and labour exploitation can easily fall through the cracks.  

Businesses should remain proactive and vigilant in carrying out their own due diligence throughout the peak season. This is especially important at this time of the year, when the incidence of incidence of human trafficking is known to increase. Slavery and human trafficking has dire consequences on individuals and businesses alike. Transparent and thorough supply chain checks therefore remain a top priority. Convenience should never come at the cost of an individual’s freedom.  

Create an inclusive working environment 

For many businesses, the peak season is a time in which their workforce changes dramatically. Shop floors, distribution centres, and warehouses are suddenly filled with lots of new faces. It is important that an inclusive work culture is maintained to ensure that all staff are treated with equal respect.  

With the increased demand and higher number of workers, cultures of bullying, disrespect, and harassment can form. These kinds of working conditions are fertile ground for labour exploitation and modern slavery. This is especially true of temporary workers, who could be left feeling dispensable. Working hours can stretch and work expectations can be unrealistically raised, resulting in forced labour staff being exploited. Encouraging an open culture amongst all staff is a foundational way of helping to avoid these issues.  

Empower your workforce by signalling safeguarding measures 

We all know that safeguarding measures are there to protect people. However, these measures are only as good as how well they are advertised. It is vitally important that all staff are fully informed on the business’ most up-to-date policies in place. This is especially true for temporary workers, who may not be made aware during their expedited hiring process.   

Staff should know how to escalate an issue and who to contact in raising a complaint. A clearly advertised whistleblowing policy should also be advertised. An open and welcome approach to these measures should be maintained during the peak season. All staff should feel comfortable in making use of them to avoid issues going unaddressed.  

On top of being clearly advertised, these policies should also be accessible to all. Ensure that all documents are translated into the languages of your workforce. Businesses should get to know the new demographics of their workforce, bearing in mind any barriers of access that they may have. This is especially important with an influx of new workers. Not only will this ensure that these policies work to prevent labour exploitation, but will also contribute to a considerate working environment. 

Consider the safety of your “behind the scenes” spaces 

From the shop floor to the head office, the rights of workers must be safeguarded and maintained. However, businesses will need to ensure that their less visible spaces, in particular in the goods not for resale area, are especially bolstered in terms of due diligence. This includes stock warehouses, depots, and distribution centres. 

As consumers increasingly engage with businesses online, these logistical spaces will be under increasing strain during the peak season. This is further exacerbated by occasions like Cyber Monday, an exclusively online day of sales and promotions. With this comes increased strain on workers behind the scenes who are less visible.   

Businesses should continue to carry out routine site checks, ensuring that all working standards are being met. Increased strain on productivity should not mean a lessening of these standards! Warehouses and similar spaces should also have clearly advertised policies, as well as “spot the signs” posters for modern slavery and trafficking. Encouraging staff-wide vigilance and awareness of these issues is a fantastic way of stamping them out.  

Let’s work together to end modern slavery 

For businesses, peak season is a moment of considerable opportunity. With this opportunity comes an equally considerable responsibility to safeguard workers’ rights and dignity. Doing so is not only good for the workforce, but ultimately beneficial for your business.  

This is not just a peak season issue but a year-round issue: why not work together to help make it a non-issue? 

Slave-Free Alliance works with businesses in increasing their resilience to the pervasive risks of modern slavery. We can help yours too. Together, we have the capacity and responsibility of preventing and addressing modern slavery. Let’s make it happen.  

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