Ending injustice: review of the Trust Conference (day one)

World slam poet champion and human rights activist, Emi Mahmoud, recites a poem at the Trust Conference in London. (Image credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation)

World slam poet champion and human rights activist, Emi Mahmoud, recites a poem at the Trust Conference in London. (Image credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Ending injustice is often about influencing the behaviours of those who facilitate wrongdoing without directly intending it. Nowhere is this truer than in modern slavery. Foco director JOHN SHEWELL attended this year’s Trust Conference to discover what the communications and behaviour change industry could learn from the fight against slavery.

Refugee women in Bangladesh are sold for as little as £5 in a global market that is the second most profitable behind drug trafficking. Children as young as five in Nepal are forced into labour earning so little that, if they are injured or die, it is cheaper to ‘hire’ another child than pay for care. A young woman from the UK describes how she was groomed and by the age of 12 she’s trafficked to repay her ‘debt bond’.

These were some of the stories told at the first day of the Trust Conference, a global summit bringing together change-makers from around the world to share their stories as survivors, champions and leaders fighting slavery, empowering women and advancing human rights.

The event, which is the annual conference of the Thomson Reuters Foundation spearheaded by its passionate CEO, Monique Villa, is a clarion call for genuine social change at a systemic level. Business leaders, policy-makers, and advocates from all over the world converged on the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London over two days to learn, share and commit to eradicating the world of slavery and trafficking.

The common theme at the conference? ‘Seeing the unseen’ - in other words finding the people  at risk of slavery or being trafficked. Organisations need better insights about the issues and audiences they’re engaging and, more importantly, the people perpetrating these crimes.

Professor Kevin Bales from Nottingham University in the UK has set up The Rights Lab to capture and analyse data relating to slavery and how it affects communities and cultures across generations around the globe. This information will help shape policy and engagement to influence change.

Jean Baderschneider, CEO of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, told delegates that businesses can change the game by cleaning up their supply chains while strengthening their brand. Responsible investing is on the rise and if companies have a tainted supply chain consumers and investors will vote with their cash. Being competitive now means taking action to improve social outcomes.

Paula Pyers, who oversees Apple’s social responsibility to supply chain management, gave examples of pioneering practices that have set the standard for the tech sector to follow in terms of auditing their supply chain and focussing efforts on education to empower their suppliers. Their approach puts social responsibility at the heart of their business.

Mondelez’s ‘Cocoa Life’ programme was also another example of a global business scrutinising its supply chain in manufacturing chocolate. Tackling slavery is crucial to their business because the knock-on effect to climate change. Research by Prof. Paul Bales revealed that the impact of modern slavery on the environment makes it the third largest emitter of CO2 emissions on the planet. (So businesses that use natural ingredients for their products have a commercial imperative to stop slavery.)

“What we cannot outsource is our moral responsibility.”

The day closed on a high with the Stop Slavery awards. Adidas took the top gong for demonstrating that they have a thoroughly audited and robust supply chain across their entire network of 1.3million suppliers. Fittingly, the quote of the day went to Aditi Wanchoo, Adidas’ director of social impact and external affairs, when collecting the award, she said: “What we cannot outsource is our moral responsibility.” A perfect end to day one of the Trust Conference.

Roll on day two!