This page covers the below sections:

  1. Slavery in the Modern World
  2. The Modern Slavery Act 2015
  3. Publications and Guidance
  4. Case Study
  5. References

See the Contents for all available Sustainability Hub pages.

Slavery in the Modern World

Slavery has evolved and now manifests itself in different ways. Some forms of traditional slavery still exist but new forms have emerged(1).

Older forms of forced labour, such as bonded labour and dept bondage, still exist. New forms can include trafficking of migrant workers for economic exploitation, these can include work in domestic servitude, work in the construction industry, the food and garment industry, the agricultural sector and forced prostitution(1).

It is estimated that 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery worldwide. One in four of these are children and over 70% are women and girls(2).

Globally one in ten children work. Most child labour occurs for economic exploitation. This contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child(3).

The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children(4) defines trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion for the purposes of exploitation. The consent of the person trafficked for exploitation is irrelevant and if the trafficked person is a child it is a criminal offence, even without the use of force(1).

The Modern Slavery Act 2015

The UK passed into law, in March 2015, the Modern Slavery Act 2015. This is aimed at addressing modern slavery and human trafficking issues. The Act introduced a provision requiring businesses to produce an annual statement, setting out the steps the business had taken to ensure there is no modern slavery in their own businesses and their supply chains.  If an organisation has taken no steps to do this, their statement should say so. 

The statement must be published prominently on the homepage of the company's website. If the organisation does not have a website, it must provide a copy of the statement to anyone who makes a written request for one and must do so before the end of the period of 30 days beginning with the day on which the request is received.

This provision applies to:

  • “body corporate” or “partnership” (described as an “organisation), wherever incorporated; and
  • carry on a business, or part of a business, in the UK; and
  • supply goods or services; and
  • have an annual turnover of £36m or more.

Publications and Guidance

The UK Government published guidance on Transparency in the Supply Chain in 2017(5).

Also available is a publication from the United Nations Human Rights office of the High Commissioner, this is a booklet entitled Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which gives details of the implementation of the UN’s Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework(6).

A best practice toolkit, to help consumer goods businesses tackle modern slavery in their global supply chain, is available from Stronger Together(7). Stronger Together is a business-led collaborative initiative aiming to reduce modern slavery, particularly forced labour, labour trafficking, and other hidden third-party exploitation of workers. It is sponsored by the UK's nine largest supermarkets and works with other key stakeholders(7). The toolkit includes practical advice on the specific steps companies can take, across different areas of their businesses, to effectively deter, detect and deal with modern slavery(7). They also offer a lot of other guidance designed to provide the consumer goods industry with practical resources and training. Using the toolkits, which are based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights framework, can help businesses comply with the UK Modern Slavery Act requirements.

The supermarkets have also agreed 'Common Principles', to which they expect their supply chain partners to adhere, when they report under the Modern Slavery Act. These Common Principles support the UK Government's objectives for introducing the legislation and are in line with the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner's position on reporting.

Some charities, such as Anti-Slavery International, will work with companies to help them map their supply chain to ensure it is free from slavery(2). Several other organisations also offer similar services.

Cosmetic Ingredients Implicated in Forced Labour – A Case Study

An example of forced labour linked to an ingredient used in the personal care industry was highlighted by Global Slavery Index when they conducted investigations, in 2017, within the Cocoa industry, in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Ghana(8).

In Ghana, they estimate that, for every 1,000 adults working in medium and high cocoa growing areas, 3.3 were victims of forced labour between 2013 and 2017, this corresponded to approximately 3,700 adults. Their findings suggested over 700,000 children worked in cocoa agriculture in medium and high cocoa producing areas, about 1,000 if which were estimated to be victims of child forced labour at the hands of somebody outside the family, between 2013 and 2017(8).

The research conducted in Côte d'Ivoire estimated that about 10,000 adults experienced forced labour in cocoa agriculture between 2013 and 2017. In the same period their research estimated that there were approximately 2,000 victims of child forced labour(8), see more information on the Cocoa Butter section of the Sustainability Hub.

A person’s risk to modern slavery is a mix of individual and environmental factors. These can be the chronic poverty of farmers, as farms are small, yields low and the farmers can have little power over the distribution chain. Other factors could be price instability of the crop, low levels or poor-quality education, the very nature of small-scale farming, and low prosecution rates due to lack of access to police and justice(8).

Global Slavery Index acknowledges that consumer desire for ethically sourced chocolate, and hence cocoa butter, had seen businesses undertake initiatives to address these issues in their supply chains(8).

There are several organisations working to eliminate slavery and other environmental issues from supply chains for many key minerals(9). Initiatives also exist to cover many other ingredients used within the personal care industry(10)(11).

As our industry moves to more and more ingredients derived from natural sources, whether these are plant or mineral, it is imperative that we track back through our supply chains to ensure all those involved in the production of the base raw material are not doing so against their will and that there are no aspects of forced labour or slavery involved at any stage.


  1. United Nations (UN) - Slavery Abolition Day
  2. Anti-Slavery International
  3. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights)- Convention on the Rights of a Child
  4. UN Human Rights - Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime
  5. UK Government - Transparency in Supply Chains etc. A Practical Guide 
  6. UN Human Rights - Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  7. Stronger Together
  8. Global Slavery Index - Importing Risk - Cocoa
  9. Responsible Mica Initiative - Other Minerals
  10. The Consumer Goods Forum - Sustainability Supply Chain Initiative
  11. Together for Sustainability