New Sedex analysis of 100,000 social audits investigates and highlights indicators of forced labour and their prevalence in global supply chains

• The analysis reveals over one-third (36%) of the social audits detect multiple indicators of forced labour
• Frequent use of excessive overtime is the most common forced labour indicator found in the audits
• On average, more indicators of forced labour are found in lower tiers of supply chains, where visibility and influence of buying companies is more limited.

New analysis from Sedex, one of the world’s leading ethical trade membership organisations, has revealed new findings into forced labour risks in global supply chains. Sedex’s report – Recognising forced labour risks in global supply chains, shares analysis of data from 100,000 social audits conducted across 158 countries over the past five years.

These audits, which use indicators to help identify risks or actual instances of forced labour, can help organisations to recognise a person who is trapped or may require urgent assistance. Sedex findings reveal that over one third (36%) of the social audits detected multiple indicators of forced labour.

These indicators are “red flags”, or alert signs, relating to forced labour – as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Their presence reveals an increased risk requiring further investigation and, potentially, action. The signs relate to a range of issues including deception of workers, withheld wages, restriction of movement and abusive working and living conditions.

Excessive overtime was revealed to be the most common indicator of forced labour identified in the audits, accounting for 24% of the total indicators found. Excessive overtime can be a common practice in certain sectors, such as garment manufacturing or electronics manufacturing. While the use of overtime itself is not problematic, excessive and illegal overtime increases the risk of forced labour if it is accompanied by other forms of coercion and workers do not feel that overtime is voluntary.

Indicators of forced labour were found to be most prevalent in crop and animal production sites. These activities typically exist at the beginning of a supply chain, in the lower tiers where it is harder for buying companies to have full visibility of work sites and conditions.

Jessica McGoverne, Director of Policy and Corporate Affairs at Sedex says, “We know that forced labour is an under-identified issue in global supply chains and businesses should always consider the potential risks of this serious issue, no matter the industry or location of work sites in their supply chain.

“Using social audits as part of wider due diligence efforts is an effective way for organisations to understand working conditions at business sites. It is vital that organisations recognise the significance of forced labour indicators, and that their presence means there may be an increased likelihood of forced labour occurring at a work site.

“Detecting forced labour is very complex, and it is therefore important for organisations to use a combination of solutions – including effective policies, processes, and tools – to identify and address forced labour risks and protect workers.”

Dame Sara Thorton, the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, says: “Recognising and investigating forced labour indicators is essential for building a nuanced picture of risks in the workplace.

“But businesses need to embed auditing within a wider mosaic of activities – including worker voice initiatives – to deepen their understanding of the complex commercial ecosystems in which they operate.”

A full summary of findings can be found in Recognising forced labour risks in global supply chains, available for download here:

About Sedex

Sedex is a leading responsible sourcing membership organisation that provides companies with technology, services and insights to implement practices that build a responsible business and supply chain.

Our solutions provide organisations with the practical tools and guidance needed to operate ethically, and work with suppliers to ensure fair working conditions for the people who make their products and deliver their services.

With Sedex, businesses can map, assess, analyse and report on their supply chains to better manage and improve their ethical performance, and work with other businesses to drive responsible business practices throughout global supply chains.

Sedex is headquartered in the UK, with offices in Australia, Chile, China, India, and Japan. Our 60,000 members include some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Nestlé, Walmart, Barclays, The John Lewis Partnership, The Body Shop, Dyson, and all the major UK supermarkets.