Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Posts By: Andrew Crane

We need to focus on leadership at the bottom of the supply chain to combat modern slavery

📥  Modern slavery, Research, Supply chains

 

Social auditing, the main tool used by multinational companies to address poor working conditions, is increasingly recognised to be ineffective in tackling modern slavery, particularly at the bottom of the supply chain. In this piece, Andrew Crane argues that a different approach is needed, and introduces a new research project which will seek to identify specific ‘bottom-up’ local solutions to modern slavery.

 

Multinational companies’ attempts to combat modern slavery in global supply chains have so far been largely unsuccessful. The main approach used by large western companies to address poor working conditions is that of responsible sourcing. This relies heavily on enforcing codes of conduct through social auditing of supplier factories. Evidence suggests that this approach has met with limited success in improving working conditions in general, and has had little effect in tackling modern slavery.

 

Activity at the bottom of the supply chain

A key stumbling block in using this approach is the difficulty of tracing the informal, unregulated, and often covert business activities that take place at the bottom of the supply chain. These might include the use of unauthorised subcontractors, unlicensed labour providers, and audit cheating by factory managers. The problem is that they often take place beyond the watchful eyes of those auditors employed by big brand companies to ensure their products are not tainted by exploitative labour practices. Modern slavery practices, in particular, tend to be buried in layers of subcontracting that simply make regular approaches to social auditing unfit for purpose.

Clearly, a more effective way of tackling modern slavery needs to be developed. While various ideas have been suggested and are being trialled, from technological solutions based on blockchain to worker apps that record working hours or report human rights violations, a more fundamental rethink may be necessary.

 

Local initiatives

One set of actors that have yet to be taken very seriously in tackling modern slavery are those who are actually working at the bottom of global supply chains - the small businesses based in developing countries operating  in the sub-tiers of these chains. However, it is exactly these entrepreneurs and their enterprises that could either be the major obstacles for effective change or a source of genuine innovation towards more responsible practice.

It is important when we are dealing with an issue like modern slavery that local perspectives are taken account and that local initiatives or experiments to try and tackle abuse are recognised and evaluated. Big brands certainly do not have the monopoly on designing solutions to the problem of extreme exploitation. Sometimes it is those closest to the problem, and with more skin in the game, that can be the source of the most promising new approaches.

 

New research

This is why, together with my colleagues Genevieve LeBaron (University of Sheffield), Laura Spence (Royal Holloway, University of London), Michael Bloomfield (University of Bath) and Vivek Soundararajan (University of Birmingham) we have designed what we believe is the first large scale academic research project exploring business relationships in the sub-tiers of global supply chains. The project has been funded by the British Academy in partnership with the UK Department for International Development as part of a major new programme on “Tackling Slavery, Human Trafficking and Child Labour in Modern Business.”

We will seek to identify innovative solutions from local actors and evaluate different points of leverage for effective action against modern slavery. Our prime focus is an in-depth case study of the garment industry in Tamil Nadu, India: a major export region for textiles and clothing destined for UK high streets.

We know that forced and bonded labour, sexual abuse, and other forms of exploitation are common in these sub-tiers in Tamil Nadu. Poor, female workers are often the most likely victims. Big brands have found it difficult to monitor and regulate these practices. In contrast, our pilot fieldwork in Tamil Nadu (conducted earlier this year) indicates that local business actors, including factory owners, labour market intermediaries, and training institutes, have begun trying to address these problems in a different way.

For example, local labour market agents are introducing “responsible recruitment” initiatives to try to provide an alternative to unscrupulous recruiters. Likewise, local entrepreneurs are experimenting with relocating manufacturing sites closer to the areas where potential workers live. This can counteract the role of labour market intermediaries in exploiting workers. However, these types of initiatives have gone unrecognised by big brand multinationals and appear to have emerged at some points in the supply chain within Tamil Nadu, but not others. They have also proved to be successful in addressing some forms of exploitation, but not others.

 

Project aims

Therefore, our project has three main aims:

1) To systematically map the business actors and relationships in the sub-tiers of the garment supply chain in South India;

2) To determine the drivers and barriers for local firms to engage in proactive initiatives addressing modern slavery; and

3) To evaluate the effectiveness of these initiatives in combatting exploitation.

Ultimately, our goal is to identify specific ‘bottom-up’ local solutions to modern slavery and to share these with key actors in business, government and civil society looking to tackle the problem.

We are hopeful that we will be bringing to light some critical new insights on what works and what does not work in the battle to address modern slavery in global supply chains. Focusing on the entrepreneurial spirit of local actors at the bottom of the supply chain is a vital, but so far overlooked, place to start.

 

Header image by Ryan under licence CC BY 2.0

 

Remembering Malcolm McIntosh

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📥  Business and society, Sustainability

 

On Saturday 18th November, friends and family gathered to remember and give thanks for the life and work of Malcolm McIntosh. Malcolm was a leading writer and thinker in the business and society field, and a Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Bath. Here, Andrew Crane pays tribute to a much missed friend and colleague. 

 

Friends and family gather to remember Malcolm at the Tate Modern

When I first met Malcolm, he rather alarmed me. Now, when I say I met him, what I really mean is that I bought his book on corporate citizenship – this one – way back in the late 1990s when I was a newly minted PhD student and Malcolm was – well, I will come to that in a minute; Malcolm has never been easy to pigeonhole.

So it would be several years later that I actually got to meet Malcolm in person and later again that we became friends. But, in that first intellectual meeting between me the reader and Malcolm the author I was not sure I actually liked him all that much. I was at the time one of those academics who was – as Malcolm would always disparagingly describe us – rather too preoccupied with obscure scholarly journals that no one ever actually read.

But here was a book that ignored all that academic baggage and captured for the first time the messy and exciting new world of corporate responsibility that was emerging at the time. Like much of Malcolm’s work, it was an exploration of real life practice – of the problems and solutions that were being experimented with by companies at the time – and it was filled with practical, good advice on how to be a more responsible company.

So of course, upstart wannabe intellectual that I was – I hated it. I found it too hopeful and not nearly academic enough for my liking. Where was the criticism? The theory? The intellectual posturing?!

But here it is, fresh off my bookshelf. I still have it some 20 years later. And for many years I actually used it exactly as it was intended – with MBA students and executives who were looking for answers and examples rather than the abstract theory that I had to offer from my own work. Malcolm, along with his co-authors, provided a rich source of inspiration and good ideas.

It is something that his work has continued to provide, right up to his latest book, In Search of the Good Society. In it, you can find some of the best health advice you can get, along with insights on art, prosperity and political economy among other things.

Malcolm's last book, In Search of the Good Society, published by Routledge

It is quite a mix. But as I mentioned, Malcolm has always been rather hard to pin down. Of course, that is probably exactly how he always wanted it to be, too.

When this earlier book came out, he was listed on the jacket as “an independent teacher, writer and consultant”. Now that probably isn’t a bad description for his whole career. Even when he had a formal position – as a Professor, as a Centre Director, as a Special Advisor to the UN – he was just as independent as when he was officially “independent”.

Malcolm, as anyone who knew him soon realized, always had his very own way of doing things. And it never looked too much like everyone else’s way of doing things.  He always crossed-boundaries between academia and practice and he had little time for academic disciplines or departments. His latest book, for example, is so wonderfully ambitious in its scope – part travelogue, part art appreciation, part health memoir – that it is almost impossible to categorize.

So University Vice Chancellors would typically either love or hate him, or very often both at the same time. Other academics also didn’t always fully appreciate him, but those that did, turned to him again and again for inspiration and a healthy dose of straight talking. Students naturally gravitated to him because he was so full of new ideas. And practitioners were often drawn to him because he understood them but also challenged them in ways that no one else did.

And I personally found him constantly invigorating. I asked Malcolm many times over the years to give classes to my students, to speak at conferences or examine the theses of my PhD students – and most recently, to join us as a Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Bath. But I never really knew what I was going to get. That, of course, was a great part of the appeal with Malcolm. He was always so alive with learning and new insights wherever and however he would find them. You could never predict which direction he would head in next.

So, my own relationship with Malcom – our friendship over the 15 years that have passed once we did eventually bump into one another – has always been a source of fun and intellectual stimulation. If I ran into him at a conference whether in London or New York or KL or Cape Town I would naturally seek him out. He would of course have just flown in from somewhere else and have tales to tell aplenty of his travels. He never, ever, seemed to get bored or tired of visiting and learning from other places. And of course, he would have that twinkle in his eye, and that great hearty laugh, as he unwrapped another little nugget of worldly knowledge – or he unravelled another of life’s ironies – or he castigated (but always with such humour) the continued failings of us all to get to grips with the problems of the world.

Because, at the heart of it all, Malcolm always, always, always had an unending drive to make the world a better place. His work, really, was a means to an end. He was an unstoppable optimist, ever believing that things could one day be better, and that knowledge, love and understanding were the keys to getting us there. He was constantly planning something new, building institutions, writing books, launching new initiatives, and hacking his own path through the status quo. And it was such a pleasure and an honour to be swept up in all that with him.

Memories of Malcolm

So what can I say except that, like many people, I will – I am – missing him terribly and the planet will be a poorer place without him. Right up to the last he was planning the next thing, ready to fire off another book to complete his trilogy. Sadly, it was not to be this time. But he has left us a wonderful repository of knowledge and insight. And in his time here – whether through his work or simply the way he chose to lead his life to the absolute fullest – he helped move us all a little bit closer to the better world, to the good society, that he wanted for all of us.

 

 

Overseas anti-slavery initiatives flourish, but domestic governance gaps persist

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📥  Business and society, Modern slavery, Policy, Research, Supply chains

 

UK-based companies are ramping up efforts to combat slavery in their overseas supply chains. But according to Andrew Crane and Genevieve LeBaron, companies also need to be working harder to address the severe labour exploitation taking place at home.

 

The passage of the UK 2015 Modern Slavery Act has prompted companies to be more open about their efforts to combat forced labour in global supply chains. To date, hundreds of companies have published modern slavery statements as required by the Act. These statements depict the problem of forced labour as a hidden and illegal practice that is seeping into complex overseas supply chains, in spite of companies’ extensive efforts to protect human rights. Companies describe their efforts to prevent and address forced labour and human trafficking through the use of ethical auditing, certification schemes, supplier codes of conduct, awareness-raising and the installation of responsible sourcing managers. This is centred on vulnerable and faraway workers, such as in the Thai fishing industry or the Bangladeshi garments sector.

There is without doubt value in company efforts to combat forced labour in supply chains operating in countries where national regulatory enforcement of labour standards is weak. Seldom acknowledged, however, is the fact that the problem is not exclusive to developing countries in the global south, but is also prevalent in developed countries in the north, including the UK.

As we document in our research published in the journal Regulation & Governance, regulatory and enforcement gaps surround the use of forced labour in global supply chains as well as supply chains located within UK borders. Problems such as the weak enforcement of labour law, poor oversight over labour providers and limited transparency in labour supply chains – combined with immigration laws that render migrant workers vulnerable to forced labour – mean that forced labour continues to thrive in UK-based industries.

Many companies source from domestic supply chains in which forced labour is known to be a problem. These include the food, construction, garment and household goods industries, as well as those linked to services such as car washes and cleaning. Yet, companies reporting on their anti-slavery efforts rarely mention these UK-based supply chains or their vulnerable workforces, choosing instead to focus on workers in their sourcing networks overseas – instead of the presumably easier option of fighting forced labour at home.

This blind spot may stem from the assumption that the UK government is already handling the problem of forced labour within its borders, so companies do not need to. However, as highlighted in our research, design flaws in public regulatory initiatives and poor enforcement mean that regulatory gaps frequently referred to as ‘decent work deficits’ in the developing world could also occur in the UK.

The risk of forced labour in UK supply chains was acknowledged by department store chain John Lewis in its 2016-2017 Human Rights and Modern Slavery Report, following the high-profile 2016 conviction of one of its UK bed suppliers Kozee Sleep for exploiting a ‘slave workforce’ to make beds sold in John Lewis stores. The company report notes that UK workers are at risk of slavery, due to “informal recruitment in seasonal supply chains” and the “lack of scrutiny of labour providers”. However, it is not clear how exactly the company plans to address these risks.

The Kozee Sleep case also underscores the shortcomings of company initiatives to monitor labour and social standards. According to several newspaper reports, Kozee Sleep passed an ‘ethical’ audit just weeks before it got busted for forced labour. As The Independent reported, “ethical audits by a series of firms including John Lewis, Next, and Dunelm Mill failed to spot their supplier was employing foreign workers for less than £2 a day”. If ethical audits cannot detect forced labour in the UK, how effective are these tools abroad, where audit cheating and corruption are documented to be widespread?

Although the reports provide some detail about the initiatives that companies are taking to prevent and address forced labour, they very seldom report on theeffectiveness of those efforts. For instance, when problems like the Kozee Sleep case are acknowledged, companies often respond by making vague references to training programs to help suppliers and service providers share good practice, or to generic ethical auditing programs. For instance, Tesco’s modern slavery statement describes the requirement for all of its UK suppliers to attend a one-day training on modern slavery that “offers a support network where challenges and good practice can be shared among peers and experts”. While this may be a valuable initiative, the company does not report on how effective this program is in actually addressing the pattern of forced labour that has by now been well-documented in UK agricultural supply chains. This makes it difficult to assess whether or not progress is being made.

Big business has a long way to go if it is serious about reducing its reliance on forced labour in the developing world. But the governance gaps surrounding forced labour in global supply chains are not the only ones to persist in the wake of the Modern Slavery Act’s passage. Companies looking to fight forced labour should start with their domestic supply chains, where they have high visibility, traceability and control as well as strong state resources that they could mobilise, if they really wanted to.

 

This article was originally published under a Creative Commons Licence by Beyond Trafficking and Slavery on the Open Democracy website. Beyond Trafficking and Slavery seeks to help those trying to understand forced labour, trafficking and slavery by combining the rigour of academic scholarship with the clarity of journalism. 

A more extensive version of this piece was recently published in the academic journal Regulation and Governance. For download options, please see the Wiley Online Library.

Image by Nick Saltmarsh

 

Public reasoning and the public intellectual

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📥  Brexit, Business and society, Education, Uncategorised

 

In our post-truth times, we are in need, more than ever, of public intellectuals. Sadly, we recently lost one of our own most spirited and courageous free thinkers in the business and society field, Malcolm McIntosh, a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Management. Malcolm passed away on 7th June 2017 after a long battle with cancer. In this extract from his forthcoming book, In Search of the Good Society, he speaks of the need for elites such as academics and other experts to reengage meaningfully with society in order to address the world's most pressing social and environmental problems. We shall greatly miss not having Malcolm with us on that journey, but his words shall remain a touchstone. 

We have challenges that must be considered carefully and tackled with quiet and earnest intent: reforming the global financial system to bring it back within our control; developing economies that nurture, rather that destroy our natural capital; managing the development of biotechnology such that it provides solutions, and does not create problems; keeping control of AI, such that, as with the development of writing and printing, we know where we are going and have some control; and, turning our media tech companies into responsible publishers so that they are subject to the sort of social controls that govern our print media and daily libel and slander laws. If democracy is to work, and be more of a viable option for the 50% who don’t currently have it, it must be based on what Edmund Burke, and more recently Amartya Sen, call ‘public reasoning’. Burke said that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ - and in this time fake news and ‘alternative facts’.

This requires the empowerment of what Pierre Bourdieu, and more recently Edward Said, call ‘the public intellectual’ who through clear public engagement restore the role of the expert and dispel the propagandists that populated the Nazi regime and drive the Trump administration and the Brexiteers. Those who voted nihilistically against those they thought to be the elite, who were the elite, must be engaged so that they can see the wholeness of society, both locally and globally, or we are doomed. Rather than coasting on our laurels we must reengage with everyone, everywhere. We must win the argument with reason.

This ‘high-opportunity, high-risk’ society is open to everyone, but also only those who have access to education and free information. As Antony Giddens says: ‘knowledge and innovation always cut both ways’. The future does not lie with nativism or isolationism. Indeed such moves defy the tide of history, the interdependent nature of all our lives, what we now know about the science of the planet, and what Karl Jung called our collective unconscious which holds the soul of humanity. At the heart of the good society should be an understanding of what Jung called instinct, for these aspects are central to what it means to be human: hunger, sexuality, activity, reflection, and creativity. And I count both art and science as forms of creativity.

Globalisation, like trade and capitalism its bedfellows, is not dead, it just needs reforming. This is not a binary, it has to be nuanced. A balance must be found on a global basis to forge what Sen calls a ‘democratic global state’ through public reasoning. The forces of financialisation, social media and consumption are out of control and have formed a model of AI such that we are beholden to their algorithmic vicissitudes. As Angus Deaton, 2016 Nobel prize winning economist, has said: ‘I don’t think globalisation is anywhere near the threat that robots are . . . globalisation for me seems to be not first-order harm and I find it very hard not to think about the billion people who have been pulled out of poverty as a result’. Deaton and his wife Anne Case have explained through enormously useful and detailed megadata trawling both the Brexit and the Trump votes: the ruling elites have been completely out of touch with white working class people. For instance, Deaton and Case highlighted the fact that the only demographic group to decline over the last fifteen years in America, because of ‘deaths of despair’, were white, poorly educated, working class men.

This is the same group that in the UK and the US have not only seen zero social mobility, but where the bottom 10% have gone backwards – they are poorer now than they were before. In the US they are now in the same position as the African-American population have always been. Just as it took the Babbage Report in the village of Haworth in Yorkshire a hundred years ago to highlight the appalling toll of poor sewage and the need for clean water so this may be a time for the elites, that’s you and me, to take a look at what really matters for everyone – at the top and the bottom of society. China and parts of Africa continue to pull people up over the poverty line, while the UK, the USA and India continue to oppress working people. Japan and most of Scandinavia have virtually eliminated extreme poverty, while parts of Europe, such as the UK, seem to lack empathy for those who suffer most. In the UK this group voted for Brexit, and in the USA for Trump. In both cases fear and ignorance triumphed. The answer is not xenophobia led by elitists (Trump and the Brexit leadership - Gove, Johnson and Farage – all of whom are rich with elite backgrounds). And the groups that voted for Trump and Brexit shot themselves in the foot, like turkeys voting for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It is not too late. All the statistics prove that globally we have made good progress over the last seventy years and we will look back and see that 2016 was a moment to take a deep breath and ask what went wrong, and then move forward again. The megalomaniacs, the greedy, those lacking in empathy and many corporate interests will always try to take over, but just as meerkats and bonobos run on cooperation so the best of humanity has been when we collaborate and cooperate. We must work for a feminised future not an avaricious masculine past. The future is liberal, collective and progressive but it requires us not to walk past on the other side or hide in a dark room listening to Beethoven with our headphones on until the world blows over. Art may be the best way forward, for it is through artistic expression in different dimensions that we can see the world afresh.

 

This is an excerpt from In Search of the Good Society by Malcolm McIntosh, which will be published by Routledge on 26th October 2017.

Trump’s first 100 days have triggered political activism among corporate America

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📥  Business and society, Environment, Human rights, Policy

 

President Trump has introduced a flurry of legislation in his first 100 days. Companies and their CEOs are responding by taking stands on political issues in ways rarely seen before. Andrew Crane asks whether this could end up transforming the way we think about corporate responsibility.

President Trump’s first 100 days have not been good for the planet. While the question of whether he will fulfil his campaign promise of rolling back the US’s commitment on the Paris climate deal is still to be settled, he has stuffed his cabinet with climate change sceptics. Most notably, the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head up the US Environmental Protection Agency met with a storm of criticism. This was hardly surprising given his ties with the energy industry, his denial of man-made climate change, and a long history of fighting the very agency he has been appointed to lead.

Trump and his cabinet have not been slow in rolling back environmental regulation introduced during the Obama presidency. As part of an effort to revive the coal industry, an executive order last month started unravelling Obama’s clean power plan (CPP). As the New York Times reported, the order effectively ceded the US’s leadership in addressing climate change and turned “denials of climate change into national policy”.

While such developments were hardly unexpected, what has been interesting has been the corporate response. Last November, nearly 400 US companies including Nike, Levis Strauss and Starbucks demanded that he leave in place low-emissions policies. In the wake of the CPP announcements in March many companies again took a public stand against the policy reversal. For example, Mars Inc. expressed disappointment at the policy change while tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft signed a joint statement supporting the CPP.

It is rare to hear companies, and US companies in particular, arguing to keep regulation. They are also usually unwilling to take explicit political stands in the public eye, preferring to use lobbying and more covert forms of political influence to sway governments to act in their interests. But the corporate response to the climate rollback seems to be part of a broader change of heart among senior executives to take public positions against what they see as undesirable policy shifts.

This change was first noticeable following Trump’s immigration ban back in January that saw wholesale restrictions on refugees and others from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. As Business Insider reports, “Before the day was over, Facebook's CEO had published a post denouncing the order. By the end of the weekend, Starbucks' CEO had outlined plans to hire 10,000 refugees. And, within a week, Uber's CEO had quit Trump's economic team as thousands deleted their accounts with the ride-hailing app.”

The response by corporate America to the immigration ban was significant and widespread. Rather than the usual caution about taking a political stand on a hot button issue, companies as diverse as Coca Cola, Google, and Ford came out against the policy. The tech industry’s response gained a lot of attention, not only because high profile companies and their leaders such as Sergey Brin at Google actively spoke out against the executive order, but also because regular tech industry employees staged walkouts and protests rarely seen before in the industry. For many in tech, the Atlantic reported, this was the first time they had taken part in political activism in their lives.

 

company-reaction-immigration-ban

 

So what does all this mean? There are a number of ways of looking at this, but the big change for me is that US companies are starting to acknowledge a meaningful role for themselves as explicit political actors. In the past, few company executives would ever admit that their actions were in any way political. “We don’t do politics” was the mantra, despite the billions of dollars spent on lobbying and trying to buy influence in Washington. However, as companies have more openly started addressing issues traditionally thought of as government responsibilities – protecting human rights, providing public goods, enforcing social and environmental standards, and the like – the cloak has gradually slipped.

Scholars of corporate responsibility such as myself have been analysing these developments over the past couple of decades, labelling these new corporate behaviours variously as “corporate citizenship”, “political CSR”, or “private governance”. So the response by corporate America to Trump’s first 100 days is not so much a sudden change in their core corporate responsibility behaviours, more a new found willingness to start acknowledging what has been increasingly apparent all along: corporations do indeed play an explicitly political role.

Acknowledging something is the first step to dealing with it. And the role of business in politics is something that we certainly do need to address as a matter of urgency. Most business leaders may not be completely comfortable yet with admitting their political role, but many do want to start thinking more seriously about their impact on the world, as Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 6,000 word manifesto exemplifies. Further radical announcements from the Trump administration are likely to incite yet more corporate political activism. So while we may not be able to thank President Trump for his impact on the planet, he may yet be responsible for a breakthrough moment in companies’ understandings of their changing role in society.

Header image by Ted Eytan

 

Brexit likely to increase modern slavery in the UK

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📥  Brexit, Modern slavery, Policy, Supply chains

 

Theresa May’s historic signing of Article 50 looks set to be her lasting legacy as Prime Minister. Unfortunately, it is also likely to derail her other signature policy on modern slavery. Our research suggests Brexit could increase modern slavery in the UK.

The signing of Article 50 marks the point of no return for the UK’s exit from the European Union. Although she inherited the Brexit decision, Theresa May’s political legacy will stand and fall on how successfully she manages to steer the country through the turmoil.

Without a doubt, Article 50 will bring untold changes to the political, economic and cultural landscape of the country. One change that will certainly be high on May’s radar is its effect on modern slavery in the UK.

Modern slavery has been May’s signature policy since she was Home Secretary. She introduced the landmark Modern Slavery Act in 2015 prior to becoming PM, and has since continued to champion the cause. In announcing a ramping up of Government efforts to improve enforcement last year, she identified modern slavery as “the great human rights issue of our time” and heralded the UK as leading the way in defeating it.

While the Act is far from perfect, it has certainly focused increased attention and resources on modern slavery. Prosecution levels also appear to be improving. This was most recently illustrated by the sentencing of the Markowski brothers to six years in prison for trafficking and then exploiting 18 people from Poland, who they brought to the UK to work in a Sports Direct warehouse.

The problem is, despite the advances gradually being made in addressing modern slavery in the UK, the signing of Article 50 is likely to worsen the problem. As May is probably acutely aware (but is so far not saying), Brexit may well undermine the progress she has made to date. It is a case of two steps forward, one step back.

According to research I conducted with an international team of colleagues looking at forced labour in the UK (initially funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), four main problems are evident.

1.      Brexit will increase the demand for modern slavery

The Brexit vote has already created uncertainty among the legions of poorly paid, but legal migrant workers from Eastern Europe that are employed in the UK’s low wage economy. Signing Article 50 may ultimately help stem the flow of workers into the country as intended. But who is going to replace them? Domestic workers will fill some of the gaps but companies are unlikely to be willing to improve wages and conditions to attract them in sufficient numbers. So there will be greater opportunities for unscrupulous middlemen to traffic in workers from overseas or prey on vulnerable UK citizens to force them into exploitative situations. Forced labour flourishes where local, low skilled labour is in short supply.

2.      Brexit will facilitate exploitation

Modern slavery often occurs when workers do not fully understand their legal rights and status. Our research uncovered various examples of migrant workers being exploited because those exploiting them misled them into the belief that they were working illegally. Perpetrators would also wait for or deliberately engineer changes in workers’ immigration status in order to exploit them. The point is that Brexit will create a period of increased uncertainty around legal status that will be a significant boon to exploiters.

3.      Brexit will increase the supply of modern slavery

Modern slavery occurs when people are vulnerable, either because of legal status, poverty, mental health, or drug and alcohol problems. In our research, the most common victims were those from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria who, at the time, were able to enter the country but were unable to work legally. This vulnerability was exploited by perpetrators who were able to coerce them into working in highly exploitative situations. The more the UK puts up barriers to people entering the country legally, the higher the risk of traffickers bringing them in illegally and pushing them into debt. Once workers are in debt, perpetrators are adept at escalating their indebtedness and creating situations of debt bondage.

4.      Brexit will turn victims into criminals

Our research found that many victims of forced labour in the UK were prosecuted under immigration offences rather than being identified as victims. The Modern Slavery Act has improved this situation but as the UK moves towards Brexit, the chances of this happening will increase because policing around immigration status is likely to intensify far more than around modern slavery.

May claims that under her leadership, “Britain will once again lead the way in defeating modern slavery”. But the bottom line is that by triggering Brexit, May will be left trying to solve a problem that she is helping create.

Image: Migrant Workers by Bread for the World

We need a new voice in the debate about business and society

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📥  Business and society

veronica-hope-hailey1  andrew-crane

Veronica Hope Hailey, Dean of the School of Management, and Andrew Crane, Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society

In our increasingly polarised times, there is fervent debate over whether business is a force for good or bad in our societies. We believe it is high time that university researchers took a more active role in this debate, providing much needed evidence to inform popular opinion. To do so, we need to speak in a new voice.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So starts Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities, a book which describes in stark comparison the cities of Paris and London at the time of the French Revolution. Today, we too live in divided times. We are divided politically, geographically, culturally, into the skilled and unskilled, the 99% and the 1%. Is your daily working life about Sports Direct or Goldman Sachs? About desperate migration or upward economic mobility? About zero hours contracts or business class flights?

Capitalism is over - you want it

Capitalism is over - you want it, photo by Anne Roth

Your answer to these questions will also undoubtedly inform your opinion about whether globalisation is a good thing or not and about whether business is largely to blame for many of the ills of the world. It will also colour your views on whether “sustainable business” is simply a hopelessly optimistic oxymoron or a genuinely realistic prospect in the coming decades. But these are not just matters of opinion. Behind the answers to these questions lie important empirical facts that can meaningfully shape the path we take.

What is clear, however, is that in times of uncertainty, trust becomes more important. But in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and never-ending corporate and political scandals, public confidence has been profoundly destabilised. The result has been a breakdown in trust in government, business, and so-called experts more generally - and a seeming turn to a “post-truth” society where “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Irrespective of whether you believe we are really heading down a post-truth path, the message for those of us who might claim some degree of expert knowledge in the debate about business and society is clear. We cannot simply expect to be a trusted source of knowledge. And, to inform opinion, we need to do things differently from how we have in the past.

Most of us in the academic world are in our comfort zone when doing our research and speaking about it to our fellow scholars. A lot of our research is impenetrable to even an informed layperson. Even when it is not, our publications are usually locked behind the paywalls of academic publishers.

Too rarely do we actively bring our knowledge out to the world in a way that truly engages with non-academic audiences. And when we do, the results are sometimes catastrophic. As one recent article put it, “business schools play a significant role in reproducing the values, skills and mindset of much of what is wrong with contemporary capitalism, such as opportunism, greed, a focus on shareholder maximisation, and economic short-termism.”

Things are beginning to change. Our research suggests that the movement to embed sustainability in business school teaching and research is making progress. The Conversation is leading the way in bringing journalistic style to academic research. But in terms of accessible research specifically on business and society, we still have a long way to go. There remains a clear need for a trustworthy source of credible research to inform decisions about how business can best contribute to a sustainable society.

With the launch of the Bath Business and Society blog, we want to bring a new voice to this debate. In fact, we believe that the Bath School of Management is uniquely positioned to bring not just one new voice but a whole range of new voices. Our aim is to inform the conversation in a variety of ways through a variety of lenses. A focus on business and society is a core value of our school and nearly one third of our faculty do remarkable, world-class research addressing this theme.  Our students too, inspired and informed by our research, are impassioned, future leaders, looking to make a difference in the world.

Over the coming months, then, our faculty and students will be drawing on their unique vantage points to bring fresh insight and new knowledge to the debate about business and society. Whether it is climate change, fair trade, inequality, modern slavery, boardroom diversity, food waste, or employee wellbeing, they will have something novel, interesting, and informed to say.  And if they say it in enough different ways, maybe at least something will stick with our post-truth audience out there. Time will tell.