Businesses have been urged to stay alert to modern slavery risks in their European supply chains after new research highlighted rising levels of exploitation across large swathes of the continent.

Three-quarters of the 28 EU member states have seen the risk of slavery incidents increase in the wake of the European migrant crisis which began in 2015, a study has found. The countries most affected are Romania, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria – key entry points for vulnerable migrants into the region.

Global risk consultancy Verisk MapleCroft is calling on companies – particularly across agriculture and construction – to pay attention to their European supply chains to look for violations such as forced labour and human trafficking. 

“The migrant crisis has increased the risk of slavery incidents appearing in company supply chains across Europe,” said Verisk Maplecroft senior human rights analyst Sam Haynes. “It is no longer just the traditional sourcing hotspots in the emerging economies that businesses should pay attention to when risk assessing their suppliers and the commodities they source.”

The annual report warns that even the EU’s biggest economies are not immune to the risk in slavery risk. Despite new legislation on modern slavery and human rights appearing in Britain, new data has revealed gaps in the UK’s labour inspectorate, while Germany has experience a rise in recorded trafficking and servitude violations.

Outside of the EU, top sourcing locations in emerging markets such as Bangladesh, China, India and Indonesia, all feature in the ‘extreme’ or ‘high risk’ categories. Turkey’s ranking in the study has plunged dramatically – the influx of 100,000s of refugees from the Syrian war, combined with Turkey’s restrictive work permit system, has led to thousands becoming part of the informal workforce.

Business efforts

UK businesses, or those that supply goods or services to the UK, have an extra incentive to focus on modern slavery. The UK Modern Slavery Act is the first piece of UK legislation – and the first in Europe – to focus on prosecuting and preventing acts of modern slavery in supply chains.

A report one year on found that business efforts to address modern slavery were being hindered by supply chain complexity. Research suggests that the majority of construction businesses would not know what action to take if modern slavery was encountered in their supply chain.

Last month, a privately-owned UK hotel group has launched what it claims is the first “industry-leading” anti-slavery programme in the sector, including plans to educate more than 400 staff members on identifying cases of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Tags: ; ; ; ; ;