More than just a tick box

Richard Gyde, managing director at Mila, explains why ethical sourcing matters more than ever in this industry.

It’s obligatory now for every business with a global turnover of more than £36million to produce a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year. This has to show that you understand the very real risks and that you have taken steps to ensure that there is no modern slavery either in your own business or in your supply chain.

You have to include things like: how you implement policies; how you carry out risk assessments and investigations; and the level of due diligence and training you undertake when reviewing existing suppliers and taking on new ones.

When you consider that there are an estimated 40 million victims of modern slavery worldwide, and more than 13,000 just in the UK, it’s an important weapon in the fight against what is sadly still a growing problem.

For Mila, our statement is much more than a tick-box exercise though. It’s integral to our ethical sourcing policy and, as a group, we put huge emphasis on ensuring that the manufacturers we work with both in the UK and overseas comply not just with the letter but with the spirit of the law.

Like many of the UK’s hardware suppliers, Mila sources a good deal of our products from the Far East in order to remain competitive on price. However, that doesn’t mean that we compromise on quality or welfare at any stage in the process. We are committed to doing the right thing and I firmly believe, even in a competitive market, that remains of the utmost importance to customers.

We’ve all seen in recent years how some of the UK’s biggest blue chip names have faced a public backlash when they have been linked with exploitative working practices overseas; and the reputational damage that has done to them is incalculable. While this industry might not have the same high profile as the high street fashion brands, I still think that our customers expect the very highest standards from their suppliers.

For us, the only way to truly assess the quality of our manufacturing partners and the welfare of their staff is to have sourcing teams based permanently on the ground. Mila has its own team based within our parent company Arran Isle’s sourcing centre in China. They regularly audit and inspect all our partners to ensure that they continually meet our standards and those of our customers. This is in addition to the regular day-to-day contact they have with them relating to orders and deliveries.

Obviously, we favour businesses with international quality assurance accreditations such as ISO9001 and ISO14001, and we also look at their health and safety culture to ensure that it meets UK requirements.

We are determined to ensure no one who works in Mila’s supply chain is exploited in any way, so we have a long list of critical failure points that are absolutely non-negotiable. For example, if any staff are underage, or if there is any indication of bonded labour within the factory, then they would instantly contravene our modern slavery statement and fail our audit. Similarly, we would fail any supplier where we judged the factory to be unsafe for the workforce or where there was any local pollution arising from their processes.

Even with existing suppliers, we have had no hesitation in the past in asking them to takeaction to improve any area of the business that did not satisfy our criteria, and would certainly terminate a business relationship if the required improvement was not forthcoming. In the past, we have allowed several of our customers to carry out their own independent audits of our suppliers, and I am so confident in our policies that I would have no problem in taking them to visit any one of the factories we deal with.

With Brexit and the threat of a no deal looming, there is much talk of the market in the UK become less regulated. While this could open up all kinds of risks when it comes to quality and welfare standards, I don’t think we should underestimate the power of the customer and the influence of public opinion in countering that.

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