Slavery in the supply chain hits the front page

As far as unlikely heroes in sustainable procurement go, West Australian mining magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest would probably rank close to the top of the list.

But his personal experience meeting a child sex slave in Nepal - and the realisation that he had likely facilitated similar situations through his business supply chain - drove him to resign as chief executive of Fortescue Metals and establish the Walk Free Foundation, with the goal of eradicating slavery globally by 2020. And he's got some powerful friends on side.

Image Credit - Fairfax Media

Image Credit - Fairfax Media

This week he launched the Global Freedom Network, along with Pope Francis II, the Bishop of Canterbury and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Egypt, who has issued a fatwa that prohibits "modern-day slavery in all of its types". 

Last year, the Walk Free Foundation released the Global Slavery Index, providing an estimate, country by country, of the number of people living in modern slavery today. Organisations can use the tool to understand and address the risk of slavery in their own supply chain.

Forrest says: “It’s like a hard-edged business. We are out to defeat slavery; we are not out to feel good. This is our mission. You see the complete hopelessness in the eyes [of enslaved people]. It’s like I’m stuck, I will never get help, I am dirt. Then you know that you can’t rest until you free them.”

This could be a game changer. Forrest has the connections and the resources to make a big impact. He has big ambitions, but he also has the business experience to make other operators small and large realise that this global issue is a problem for all of us.

Sustainable procurement is no small issue. And as Forrest is showing us, visibility over your supply chain can be an extremely powerful tool for real change.