When issues are identified in our business and supply chains, we are committed to supporting our colleagues and suppliers to deliver effective action which addresses root cause and provides meaningful improvement.
We understand our suppliers may need time and support in this process, but our priority is always to stay and fix issues, and never to simply cut and run. As long as suppliers can demonstrate their commitment to continuous improvement, they have practical plans in place, and demonstrable progress is being made, we will always continue to trade with them.
We operate an externally provided whistleblowing hotline called “Tell Us” which is available to all colleagues and suppliers, enabling them to raise concerns directly and anonymously to our central Internal Audit team. All concerns raised are thoroughly investigated by our People, Loss Prevention, Technical or Legal services teams, depending on the nature of the case. Appropriate action is taken where required and notification provided when investigations are complete. The Internal Audit team regularly reports to our executive committee on the operation of this process and outcomes of any allegations raised.
Our collaborative relationships with multi-stakeholder initiatives and network of subject matter experts enable us to provide suppliers with access to expert advice where required.
In cases specific to modern slavery, we have formalised this commitment to support suppliers through the BRC Retailer Protocol on Modern Slavery and the Apparel and General Merchandise Public/Private Protocol. We first demonstrated this approach in 2017, when a confirmed case of modern slavery was identified at one of our root vegetable suppliers the UK. We supported the supplier throughout the investigation and have since undertaken collaborative visits to gain further insight into the contributing factors.
We will inevitably face challenges addressing human rights risk in our supply chains, it is therefore important that we continue to review lessons learnt as our programme develops. For example, in 2019 we identified an underage worker in a Chinese factory supplying us with electrical appliances. In this case we worked with the ETI, our competitors and a locally based NGO (The Center for Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility) to both remediate the worker and provide external training and guidance for the supplier. The worker was supported financially for a period of two and half years (until he reached legal working age), with regular visits from the NGO to oversee and ensure the process is effective. We have now developed a dedicated child labour policy, which was drafted in collaboration with the Centre for Child Rights and Business.
In 2019 we also worked with the ETI, our competitors and suppliers to respond to allegations of human rights issues at a tropical fruit supplier in Kenya. This was a complex case involving long standing issues both in the workplace and surrounding communities. Through the ETI we funded and facilitated an independent investigation and impact assessment by the locally based third party which highlighted a number of recommendations. The supplier was open and engaged at all stages of the process and implemented all the actions recommended and agreed by the working group.