Dr Pamela Robinson comments on Thai slave labour: producing prawns for supermarkets in the UK and US

The recent story in the Guardian (dated June 11 2014), which reports on the exploitation of labour in international supply chains, demonstrates yet again that transparency in such chains is crucial.

Dr Pamela Robinson is a Lecturer in Comparative Employment Relations at Birmingham Business School, with her research interests including the self-regulation in global supply chains. Here she offers her comments on the story.

Systems of due diligence linked to major supermarkets retailers' CSR policies will not suffice to convince consumers or regulators that they are behaving ethically. The issue lies within the complexity of the global sourcing channelling that retailers draw upon and the many inputs and raw materials required to make the finished product.

However, the fact that international food supply chains are convoluting and complex does not excuse the problems and illegal activities that operate at the bottom of the chain. Captive and bonded labour, or slave-labour as this form of labour is more commonly described, is unacceptable and unpalatable to the majority of a retailer's stakeholder groups - this issue goes beyond consumer and employee concerns, it impacts on shareholders too.

It is time, therefore, for the major supermarkets to build a more robust and rigorous system of auditing in their extended supply chain in order to rebuild confidence in global supply chains. It is critical for these behemoth companies to build assurances that the public need, which simply put means the food on our plates is safe and has been produced in an equitable manner.

Many of the activities involved in the manufacturing and sourcing of food products can by outsourced, but social responsibility is one activity that is best kept closer to home.

Read the complete article on the Guardian - "Revealed: Asian slave labour producing prawns for supermarkets in US, UK"

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If you are interested in finding out more about Global Value Chains (GVC) and the GVC Research Cluster at Birmingham Business School, please contact Dr Lisa De Propris, GVC Research Cluster Director; l.de_propris@bham.ac.uk.