How much do you know about your suppliers' suppliers?

Understanding your supply chain has never been more important with the advent of the Modern Slavery Act of 2015, according to supply chain expert Philip Evason.

Labour: retailers required to understand working practice at all levels of the supply chain for plants and products
Labour: retailers required to understand working practice at all levels of the supply chain for plants and products

The act was passed in March last year with the aim to prevent the use of forced labour in the UK economy by encouraging businesses to take a greater interest in the practices of suppliers at home and abroad.

Evason said one of the most important challenges for buyers in the horticultural industry is to ensure that their supply chains do not unwittingly involve exploitation of labour. Organisations will suffer reputational damage and risk loss of consumer confidence as well as market share should they be found to be sourcing from suppliers that use exploitative labour.

"It's not just about understanding the policies and processes of your immediate supplier but of the second and third-tier suppliers along the supply chain for all plants and products traded within the industry," he explained.

An independent supply chain specialist and member of the Institute of Procurement & Supply, Evason added: "An additional clause to the act requires organisations with a turnover of £36m or more to produce and publish a slavery and human trafficking statement each financial year. This should include a summary of what steps the organisation has taken each year to ensure that slavery or human trafficking is not taking place in its business or its supply chain. The first of these statements is required now - March 2016."

Evason, who is keen to work with garden centres and nurseries to help them interpret the act and enshrine it into their procurement policies, advises that companies should ensure those responsible for purchasing are familiar with the act and adopt policies to prevent and detect modern slavery in their own operation and the operation of their suppliers and business partners.

He stated that while it is impractical to audit and monitor each and every supplier in your supply chain at all levels, you should be able to identify key vulnerabilities and take a risk-management approach to ethical procurement. Rigorous independent auditing of key supplier sites is invaluable to determine whether standards set by your company and, just as importantly, the expectations of your customers are being met by your suppliers.

"The Modern Slavery Act prohibits slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour or human trafficking," said Evason. "There have been cases in the UK where victims were forced to work long hours, were paid a fraction of their contractual rate and were found working in near-freezing conditions. Global procurement with extended supply chains can bring benefits to the horticultural industry, but the act means we will need to ask more probing questions of suppliers both at home and abroad with the aim of trading with organisations that have robust ethical sourcing programmes."

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