Aisha Aswani, Ethical Trade Manager

We live in a complex world with poverty and exploitation all around us. People are facing impossible situations and the more vulnerable a person is, the more likely they are to be taken advantage of. During the pandemic and looking toward Brexit and beyond, the future for workers is more uncertain than ever. 

As we mentioned in our previous blog, modern slavery is indiscriminate. It can happen anywhere and is often difficult to spot. One of the biggest challenges we face is that many people who are being exploited are nervous and reluctant to speak up. They might not speak the language. They might be in a new, unfamiliar country. They might come from a country where they can’t trust any authority. And they might be worried if they speak up they could lose their jobs and the only income they have. 

This is what makes it so difficult to tell whether someone is suffering. That’s why we find so few instances of modern slavery. But our job is to help protect our colleagues and partners throughout our supply chain to ensure modern slavery is prevented. 

What do the Ethical Trade team do to spot modern slavery?

We have over 2,000 production sites within our Ethical Trade programme in over 70 countries with half a million people. So to make sure we have a view of what’s going on when we’re not physically there, we run an audit monitoring programme which covers all Co-op Brand products. Where issues are identified through worker interviews and observations in ethical audits, we work with suppliers to find solutions. 

Alongside audits, the eyes and ears of our technical and commercial colleagues help us to find issues too. They communicate with and visit suppliers regularly, so we work closely with them to uncover issues affecting workers.

Finally, we need to win the hearts and minds of the suppliers and make them part of the journey. We have a global supplier engagement programme which gives our suppliers the tools they need to be confident in identifying modern slavery themselves. Every year we’ll reach more than 1000 participants in over 20 events through this programme.

How do we help our suppliers to tackle modern slavery in our supply chains?

Our approach to working with suppliers makes us unique. It’s based on some key principles:

Recognition: our suppliers do their best in finding instances of modern slavery but it’s tough to find. They help workers to voice concerns through things like independent confidential hotlines. We have a supplier performance framework that encourages transparency and suppliers to take a strategic approach to tackling modern slavery.

Co-operation: Many other retailers have the same suppliers in common so we work together on this issue. Co-op was a founding member of Stronger Together, which provides tools, training and resourcing to equip people to find modern slavery and how to handle situations if discovered. We have also played a leadership role in creating supplier forums in key sourcing countries.

Collaboration: We facilitate the sharing best practice and experiences at events like our regional and strategic forums which you can find out more about on our website

When we do find issues, how do we handle them?

Don’t panic, as from a supplier perspective, it takes a lot of courage to contact us and say they think they might have identified an issue. 

We’re always improving our ability to ability to identify issues. And we can only do this through supporting, encouragement and reassurance. It’s about collaboration and always putting the best interest of the worker first

What makes you most proud of the work Co-op do?

I’m proud of the great relationships we have with our suppliers. They really trust us, and if they find themselves in a problem situation, the Co-op is one of the first customers they will call because they know we will support them. 

We all have the power to spot the signs of modern slavery and to be aware of situations where instances might occur. Wondering what the signs are? See our poster which shows you how to identify situations and victims of modern slavery. 

For further information on our ethical trade programme and read our Modern Slavery Statement please visit our website:

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. What would you say to the argument that instances are actually not that difficult to find, in that as there is a financial motivator behind any such activity, a comparison of costs or profit margins and prices should readily highlight exploitation?

    • It’s of the utmost importance to us that our suppliers, like our Co-op, pays workers a fair wage. Modern slavery is a criminal activity, with perpetrators exploiting their victims in many and complex ways. Also, victims might be too afraid to speak up about a situation they find themselves in, which often makes the problem difficult to identify.

      For this reason, we go above and beyond a simple audit of our partner businesses. We work collaboratively with suppliers and bodies across the industry to tackle modern slavery and all its underlying issues. As part of our Future of Food ambition, we have committed to campaign for an end to modern slavery and to eliminating illegal and unfair recruitment practices in our global supply chains. You can read more here.

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