Can you audit your way out of slavery, or do you have to pay the price?

Channel 4’s report on conditions for fruit packers reveals regular, awful treatment of the workers supplying the supermarkets.

No doubt all the supermarkets’ suppliers are regularly audited to guard against just this sort of exploitation. So what has gone wrong? The immediate answer is that the ‘unannounced, random audits’ were not nearly random or unannounced enough. In these circumstances, the only audit that will work is the one that the company does not know is happening. Channel 4 is really providing just this sort of ‘mystery audit’ service for the supermarkets.

But all auditing is operating after the fact. To prevent exploitation happening in the first place, the causes have to be addressed. And the deeper cause here is the relentless downward pressure on prices that the supermarkets exert on their suppliers. Saying each year ‘next year we will pay you 5% less for the same product’ will lead to slavery. If the supermarkets really want lower costs, they should work with their suppliers to figure out how it can be done without exploiting anyone.

Or just pay what decent work costs.

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