UK Government must act on slavery risk in public sector uniforms, say NGOs

London, 28 September 2018

A new report has revealed that a third of companies that have supplied uniforms for UK public sector workers, including the armed forces and prison officers, have not reported on what they are doing to tackle slavery in their supply chains.

The report, Who Made Our Uniforms?published by corporate accountability NGOs CORE Coalition and ICAR (the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable) reveals that few contractors supplying uniforms and specialist safety clothing to the UK public sector are transparent about their ethical standards and international suppliers.

Three years ago, Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act, requiring companies to report on what they are doing to address slavery in their supply chains. Only 10 of the 30 companies analyzed in the report have published a slavery and human trafficking statement, despite the apparel manufacturing sector being notorious for labour and human rights abuses.

The report also explores whether companies awarded large contracts between 2013-2016 by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Crown Commercial Services (the central government purchasing unit), and Transport for London (TfL) reveal where their goods are made. Twelve companies provide general information, but none have followed the example of consumer brands like H&M, Primark, and ASOS and published factory names and addresses.  

Nicole Vander Meulen from ICAR said “It would be a positive step for these companies to publish factory names and addresses. This would reduce the risk of abusive practices in their supply chains, and can also help unions, NGOs and workers to alert companies to problems.” 

TfL is the only one of the four authorities to have published its own modern slavery statement. In 2016, TfL announced a five-year partnership deal with The Fairtrade Foundation to ethically source cotton for staff uniforms. The following year, the Mayor of London published a Responsible Procurement Policy for the Greater London Authority, covering TfL.

Yet despite the UK government’s commitment to tackling modern slavery, neither the MoD nor the MoJ make any reference to responsible procurement on their websites.

The findings in the new report echo a study published earlier this year by sustainability consultancy Sancroft and procurement experts Tussell, which found that only 58% of central government’s top 100 suppliers had published supply chain reports that comply with legal requirements.

“The evidence from our research suggests there is a real risk that UK government supply chains could be tainted by slavery. The independent review of the Modern Slavery Act recently announced by government should explore how the bidding process for public sector contracts can be strengthened to raise ethical standards and tackle forced labour,” said Marilyn Croser, Director of CORE. 


For more information call:

  • U.S. - Nicole Vander Meulen, ICAR: 616 822 9073

  • U.K. - William Meade, CORE: 0203 752 5712