Modern Slavery and Supply Chain Management
“Of all the shameful and infamous expedients man has preyed upon man, this vile thing dares to call itself commerce.” – Roger Casement
The 1987 Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations, 1987). Considerable work on environmental sustainability has been done in the decades since the report’s publication to ensure that ‘the ability of future generations to meet their needs is not compromised.’ Unfortunately, sustainability efforts, founded on the reality that a minority of people live beyond the planet’s means, ignore the stark realities of the many millions of people whose needs are not even met today. Many of those people exist in conditions labelled ‘modern slavery’. Working largely in the complexified reaches of the global supply chains, where precarity abounds, people in conditions of modern slavery toil to feed global consumption. Underpaid, bonded, physically and/or psychologically forced, robbed of rights and the rewards of their labour, trafficked, and subjected to other abuses, many are exploited from very young ages.
Modern slavery is a long-standing phenomenon. Reports filed by eyewitnesses of extreme abuses on Congolese rubber (Casement, 1904) and São Toméan cocoa (Nevinson, 1906) plantations, represent geographies and sectors that continue to experience appalling abuses today. A history exceeding 100 years attests to the longevity of issues differentiated as ‘modern’ slavery from other forms of historical slavery largely because of its contemporary illegality. The apparent intractability of the problem (Nolan and Bott, 2018; Landman and Silverman, 2019) belies the fact that modern slavery derives from national and corporate governance failures, and from choices made in supply chains: raw materials sourcing and production in supply networks from tea plantations (BBC, 2023) to fashion (Benstead et al., 2021), and services delivered on construction sites (Trautrims et al., 2021) through labour supply chains (Pesterfield and Rogerson, 2023).
Recognition of modern slavery can be seen in the growing body of legislation aimed at managing the problem. Specific laws on modern slavery (and derivations thereof in anti-child labour, duty of care, and mandatory human rights due diligence legislation) are now on the statute books of the USA, UK, France, Australia, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands, and will soon come into force in Canada and across the European Union. Much of this legislation mandates disclosure of what organizations are doing to address the issues without stating what those actions should be. The result is many petabytes of corporate disclosure (which, incidentally, requires cobalt and other minerals to produce the servers on which those reports are stored, exacerbating extreme exploitation), but little evidence of action (Lopatta et al., 2023).
Published research on modern slavery has often focused on analysis of secondary data from such disclosures. While this body of research has provided valuable insights into how organizations frame their responsibilities vis-à-vis modern slavery, much less research has been published on modern slavery in situ in supply chains.
The SI aims to elicit insight from research embedded in supply chain contexts, which can inform both practitioners and policymakers and drive theory development for researchers. In seeking empirical submissions focused on modern slavery along the supply chain, the SI will not consider conceptual or review papers and will require radical new empirical and/or theoretical insights into how organisations manage modern slavery in their supply chains from studies based on organisational disclosure.
List of Topic Areas
The special issue editors welcome research on the following non-exhaustive list of topics and are also keen to see innovative work which challenges their own ideas on the topics central to the call for papers. Scholarship that focuses on groups of people vulnerable in their own contexts (through e.g. caste, gender, age, race, Indigenous status, etc.), interdisciplinary work, and research from different perspectives, including critical management and from outside academia, is encouraged. The special issue co-editors welcome questions on the suitability of research ideas for the special issue from researchers.
- Research which centres the work in its design and delivery on workers, their voices and experiences
- Research upstream on identification of abuses and remedy (part of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which has received much less attention than other areas in the supply chain literature)
- Firm responses in supply chains to the growing body of regulation, including on mandatory human rights due diligence
- Barriers in the supply chain to focal firms discharging their legal and moral responsibilities to cascade standards down through supplier tiers
- The use (and limits) of technology to assist in identifying, mitigating, and managing risks of modern slavery, especially where those technologies enable identification and remedy of cases of modern slavery
- Supply chain collaborations, including with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs), to protect workers and/or human rights defenders
- The role of labour supply chain management in addressing modern slavery risks
- Innovative work that seeks to address conflicting logics, tensions, and/or paradoxes that exist between financial goals and social duties in tackling modern slavery
- Work at the confluence of supply chain resilience or supply chain risk management strategies and practices and work addressing modern slavery
- Research that identifies linkages between modern slavery and other sustainability abuses and their managemen
Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available here.
Author guidelines must be strictly followed. Please see here.
Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to ““Please select the issue you are submitting to”.
Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.
Opening date for submissions: 1st October 2024
Closing date for submissions: 30th June 2025
BBC (2023), True cost of our tea: Sexual abuse on Kenyan tea farms revealed, available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-64662056
Benstead, A., Hendry, L.C. and Stevenson, M. (2021), “Detecting and remediating modern slavery in supply chains: a targeted audit approach”, Production Planning & Control, Vol. 32 No. 13, pp.1136-1157.
Casement, R.D. (1905), The Casement Report: Correspondence and Report from His Majesty's Consul at Boma Respecting the Administration of the Independent State of the Congo, Harrison and Sons, London, available from: https://archive.org/details/CasementReport/mode/2up
Landman, T. and Silverman, B.W. (2019). “Globalization and modern slavery”, Politics and Governance, Vol. 7 No. 4, pp.275-290.
Lopatta, K., Tideman, S.A., Scheil, C. and Makarem, N. (2023), “The current state of corporate human rights disclosure of the global top 500 business enterprises: Measurement and determinants”, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Vol. 96, 102512.
Nevinson, H.W. (1906), A Modern Slavery, Harper and Brothers, London, New York, NY, available from: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/67530
Nolan, J. and Bott, G. (2018). “Global supply chains and human rights: spotlight on forced labour and modern slavery practices”, Australian Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp.44-69.
Pesterfield, C. and Rogerson, M. (2023), “Institutional logics in the UK construction industry’s response to modern slavery risk: Complementarity and conflict”, Journal of Business Ethics, ahead-of-print, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-023-05455-4
Trautrims, A., Gold, S., Touboulic, A., Emberson, C. and Carter, H. (2021), “The UK construction and facilities management sector's response to the Modern Slavery Act: An intra-industry initiative against modern slavery”, Business Strategy and Development, Vol. 4 No. 3, pp.279-293.
United Nations (1987), Our Common Future, available from: https://www.are.admin.ch/dam/are/en/dokumente/nachhaltige_entwicklung/d…