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Jan 8, 2018

In Episode 3 of Series 3 of The Rights Track we talk to Dr Alexander Trautrims  from the University of Nottingham who leads the Rights Lab’s programme of research helping businesses to develop and implement measures to ensure their supply chains are slavery free. 


  • Explanation of what  supply chains are and how they work - why and how certain supply chains are more complex than others and how they can differ across and  between countries. What drives why and how supply chains are established: e.g. availability, cost, expertise, specialist resources. Why and how labour and the cost of labour are key to supply chains and winning business.
  • Discussion around the existing obligations and protections (laws/human rights) that exist to protect workers. Alex explains that different countries operate within different legislative contexts. He cites Brazil as an example of advanced labour law and the UK as being the opposite with an increasing trend towards outsourcing low-skilled labour where the only way they can keep costs low is by providing worse terms and conditions to workers - he says this is particularly prevalent in the public sector.
  • Todd mentions recent investigations into companies like Flatcom, Toshiba and Apple into unfair working practices and the work of the Fair Labor Association in Washington looking into these. He mentions an earlier episode of The Rights Track with Professor Shareen Hertel where workers rights and unfair practices were discussed but then asks Alex to outline some of the more exploitative practices that he’s been looking at. 
  • Explanation of where in the supply chain exploitative practices are most prevalent, what those practices look like and how it is detected


Alex mentions his recent research looking at exploitative practices in car washes and how, in some cases, it is clearly observable that workers are not* possibly being paid the minimum wage or that they are being coerced or forced to work. He explains that one of the biggest concerns is that there is a ‘normalisation’ of these practices

  • Discussion around who is legally responsible for these activities e.g. if there is a car wash operating in a supermarket car *park* is the supermarket responsible for making sure illegal/unethical practices are not occurring?   
  • Alex explains the car washes have been the subject of considerable recent scrutiny by the Labour Abuse Authority and Anti-Slavery Commissioner and in the media recently with some high profile arrests
  • Todd asks about public attitudes towards towards using services that they ‘know’ to be exploitative and asks if , rather like with free range eggs, if people knew the labour was sourced ethically they would be prepared to pay more for the service. Alex says there has been a change in how this is viewed and that many  members of the public are ‘wilfully ignorant’ and choose not to behave ethically because they do not necessarily see a direct benefit to themselves of doing so. When it comes to businesses ‘turning a blind eye’ to what might be happening in the car parks, he believes however that increasingly it is being understood and accepted that ignorance is not a defence and that legislation will be developed to enforce that.


  • More detailed explanation of Alex’s car wash research and how he and colleagues investigated a car wash and modelled all the relevant statistics to show that there was no way its workers could have been paid the minimum wage.
  • How the research is being used on a bigger scale by police forces in their efforts to investigate other car washes
  • Todd mentions how the 2015 Modern Slavery Act is working to ensure large businesses are being transparent about their supply chains and to state publicly how they will fight modern slavery but asks how do they know what’s happening and put practices in place 
  • Alex says he believes the Act is doing a great deal to encourage good supply chain practice but says the challenges in achieving this are huge for some companies and that it is almost impossible to guarantee.
  • Discussion around how the Unchained Supply Project is working to help companies detect, development and implement measures against modern slavery in supply chains and procurement activities 

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