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Modern Slavery Act

December 20, 2022 min reading
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MODERN SLAVERY STATEMENT

MARCH 2022

1                 WHAT IS SLAVERY?

1.1             The Modern Slavery Act (MSA) 2015 covers four activities:

Slavery Exercising powers of ownership over a person
Servitude The obligation to provide services is imposed by the use of coercion
Forced or compulsory labour Work or services are exacted from a person under the menace of any penalty and for which the person has not offered themselves voluntarily
Human trafficking Arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to their exploitation

1.1             This policy covers all four activities.

2                 HOW IS IT RELEVANT TO US?

2.1             Whispering Smith Ltd is a leading fashion group, importer, wholesaler and distributor of innovative fashion for our primary brand Brave Soul. We market and sell clothing, swimwear, lounge wear, footwear, hats and accessories.

2.2             We supply many major high street stores and e-tailors and have a global presence with showrooms located in Manchester, London, New York, Dusseldorf, Madrid and Hong Kong among them. Products are designed, sourced, and subsequently distributed globally from warehousing in the North of England.

2.3             Whispering Smith is committed to a work environment that is free from human trafficking, forced labour and unlawful child labour (“human trafficking and slavery”). We strongly believe that we are responsible for promoting ethical and lawful employment practices. These practises are also required to be followed by our (suppliers) worldwide.

2.4             Modern slavery is a complex and multi-faceted crime and tackling it requires all of us to play a part.

2.5             The MSA 2015 recognises the important part businesses can and should play in tackling slavery and encourages them to do more.

2.6             With this in mind, we pay particularly close attention to:

2.6.1        our supply chain;
2.6.2        any outsourced activities, particularly to jurisdictions that may not have adequate safeguards;
2.6.3        all our suppliers worldwide;
2.6.4        contractors;
2.6.5        employees working overseas;
2.6.6        employees recruited through agencies;
2.6.7        our importers and exporters and their roles;
2.6.8        recruitment; and
2.6.9        maintaining compliance standards in fashion supply chains.

3                 RESPONSIBILITIES

3.1             Whispering Smith, our managers and colleagues have responsibilities to ensure our fellow workers are safeguarded, treated fairly and with dignity.

3.2             Everyone must observe this policy and be aware that turning a blind eye is unacceptable and simply not an option.

3.3             In the event anything in this policy may conflict with local law, local law will control the interpretation and application of this policy. However, we will do everything within our infrastructure to protect our stakeholders including workers, including working with local representatives and NGOS.

3.4             Systems and controls will be implemented, including this policy, to safeguard against any form of modern slavery across our supply chain, supported by our Merchandising Team and in house Sourcing and Compliance team who are responsible for ensuring suppliers are compliant with current laws and regulations.

The company

3.5             We will:

3.5.1        maintain clear policies and procedures preventing exploitation and human trafficking, and protecting our workforce and reputation;
3.5.2        not tolerate the use of unlawful child labour or forced labour in the manufacture of products we sell;
3.5.3        not accept products from suppliers that employ or utilize child labour or forced labour in any way;
3.5.4        be clear about our recruitment policy (see Recruitment);
3.5.5        map our supply chains (see Supply chains);
3.5.6        lead by example by making appropriate checks on all employees, recruitment agencies, suppliers, etc. to ensure we know who is working for us;
3.5.7        have a grievance process in place that is accessible to internal and external stakeholders to report any concerns relating to potential or actual violations of the law or company policies anonymously and without the fear of retaliation. The GM provides a legitimate, accessible and anonymous means of sharing concerns;
3.5.8        seek to raise awareness so that our colleagues know what we are doing to promote their welfare;
3.5.9        comply with the minimum age requirements prescribed by applicable laws unless a specific contract contains stricter are requirements;
3.5.10     compensate workers with wages and benefits that meet or exceed the legally required minimum and will comply with overtime pay requirements;
3.5.11     abide by applicable law concerning the maximum hours of daily labour;
3.5.12     provide a safe and healthy working environment, including for any company-provided living quarters ensuring that fire safety measures are met in line with ACCORD/RSC guidelines;
3.5.13     respect employee’s right to freedom of association, consistent with local laws;
3.5.14     encourage diverse workplace and provide a workplace that is free from discrimination, harassment and or any other form of abuse; and
3.5.15     we make a clear annual statement setting out the steps we have taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in our supply chains to demonstrate that we take our responsibilities to our employees and our clients seriously.

Managers

3.6            Managers will:

3.6.1        listen and be approachable to colleagues;
3.6.2        respond appropriately if they are told something that might indicate a colleague or any other person is in an exploitative situation;
3.6.3        remain alert to indicators of slavery (see Identifying slavery);
3.6.4        raise the awareness of our colleagues, by discussing issues and providing training, so that everyone can spot the signs of trafficking and exploitation and know what to do; and
3.6.5        use their experience and professional judgement to gauge situations.

Colleagues

3.7             We all have responsibilities under this policy. Whatever your role or level of seniority, you must:

3.7.1        keep your eyes and ears open—if you suspect someone (a colleague or someone in our supply chain) is being controlled or forced by someone else to work or provide services, follow our reporting procedure (see Reporting slavery);
3.7.2        follow our reporting procedure if a colleague tells you something you think might indicate they are or someone else is being exploited or ill-treated; and
3.7.3        tell us if you think there is more we can do to prevent people from being exploited.

4                 THE RISKS

4.1           The principal areas of risk we face, related to slavery and human trafficking, include:

4.1.1        worldwide supply chains;
4.1.2        recruitment and recruitment abroad;
4.1.3        general recruitment;
4.1.4        use of contractors; and
4.1.5        use of suppliers.

5                 ASSESSMENT OF RISKS AND STEPS TAKEN

5.1             We manage these risk areas through our procedures set out in this policy and improved traceability beyond the first tier of the supply chain. We devote significant internal resource to strengthen our work in this area.

5.2             We have our own supplier auditing system, including unannounced visits, to ensure first and second tier suppliers are following regulations and acting in accordance with our code of conduct.

5.3             All suppliers are periodically asked to confirm the source of their materials and to verify this.

5.4             Working with suppliers to ensure minimum wage compliance and transparency, this is an ongoing process.

5.5             Reducing the number of key suppliers in our supply base to allow greater focus on our key supplier relationships.

6                 OUR PROCEDURES

Anti-slavery statement

6.1             We make a clear annual statement setting out the steps we have taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in our supply chains to demonstrate that we take our responsibilities to our employees, people working within our supply chain and our clients seriously.

6.2             We make this statement on our website.

6.3             We share this with our internal and external shareholders ensuring it is understood across all layers.

Supply chains

6.4             Our supply chain encompasses those working in factories, warehouses, HQ staff and providers of all services across our business.

6.5             We thoroughly check and conduct risk assessments including due diligence to identify and mitigate any risks of our policies being breached.

6.6             We tell the companies we do business with that we are not prepared to accept any form of exploitation.

6.7             All our supplier contracts contain an anti-slavery clause. This clause, which flows down through all layers of our supply chain, prohibits suppliers and their employees from engaging in slavery or human trafficking.

6.8             We will work to ensure that our supply base in China, Bangladesh, Turkey, India and Pakistan are fully compliant.

6.9             We have a demanding set of procedures and policies in place to which our suppliers must adhere. Whispering Smith are SEDEX members and its suppliers are required to undertake a SMETA audit (SEDEX Members Ethical Trade Audit) to assess the quality of their operations. This is supplemented by regular, unannounced and semi announced audits by a 3rd party.

6.10          Where the audit process identifies that improvements can be made to the quality of the supplier’s operations the issues, together with the proposed improvements, are recorded in a Corrective Action Plan Report (CAPR). Once the CAPR has been filed, we work with the supplier to provide support to make the required improvements recorded in the CAPR. Before the CAPR can be closed, the supplier is required to submit supporting evidence to the Sourcing and Compliance team. We do work to verify this through unannounced audits. Working with our suppliers to help them address issues within their operations is important to us. With our guidance, our suppliers can implement gradual and sustainable change. This aims to improve operations for the industry as a whole.

Uyghur Forced Labour

6.11          We acknowledged the risk of modern slavery and human rights violations in Xinjiang, targeting the Uyghur population and other Turkic and Muslim-majority peoples on the basis of their religion and ethnicity.

6.12          To address this risk in our own supply chain:

a)               We send letters to our suppliers to outline Whispering Smith’s position and actions required by suppliers to       prevent the use of forced labour in their supply chains.
b)               Developed a process to sense-check all newly on boarded suppliers and tier 1-3 factories to ensure no links to the Uyghur region and forced Uyghur labour.
c)                We recognise the industry risks of sourcing from China in relation to Uyghur forced labour. We shared training with our merchandisers on this and sent out a letter to our China based suppliers to outline the risks and prevent the use of forced labour in April 2021.
d)               In our annual review of our modern slavery policy we will specifically address the risk of these human rights violations.
e)               We conduct due diligence on Chinese suppliers in line with SMETA/SEDEX auditing. However SMETA recognise that “there are challenges in conducting supply chain due diligence and audits within the Xinjiang Region as obtaining reliable information by interviewing the workers and their employers is difficult. There are also constraints on access by independent auditors to the region.”  Recognising this challenge, as part of our corrective active plan we will develop a process to check suppliers to ensure no links to the Uyghur region and forced Uyghur labour. This will include cross referenced with the ASPI report and organising in-line inspections if any concerns are raised during the critical path.
f)                 We note and understand that this is not a China specific problem, it is a global supply chain issue. We will re-issue and monitor the return of signed documents as part of our due diligence across our supply chain regardless of region.

7                 RECRUITMENT

Using agencies

7.1             Our HR/recruitment team follows firm policy and only uses agreed specified reputable recruitment agencies.

7.2             To ensure the potential for slavery and human trafficking is reduced as far as possible, we thoroughly check recruitment agencies before adding them to our list of approved agencies. This includes:

7.2.1        conducting background checks;
7.2.2        investigating reputation;
7.2.3        ensuring the staff an agency provides have the appropriate paperwork (e.g. work visas);
7.2.4        ensuring the agency provides assurances that the appropriate checks have been made on the person they are supplying; and
7.2.5        we keep agents on the list under regular review. Performance is reviewed to ensure our code of conduct is adhered to. Any issues will be flagged and remediated. If not, trade will be terminated.

General recruitment

7.3             We always ensure all staff have a written contract of employment and that they have not had to pay any direct or indirect fees to obtain work.

7.4             We always ensure staff are legally able to work in the UK.

7.5             We check the names and addresses of our staff (a number of people listing the same address may indicate high shared occupancy, often a factor for those being exploited).

7.6             We provide information to all new recruits on their statutory rights including sick pay, holiday pay and any other benefits they may be entitled to.

7.7             We provide clear information on any grievance or disciplinary procedures.

7.8             If, through our recruitment process, we suspect someone is being exploited, the HR/recruitment team will follow our reporting procedures (See Reporting slavery).

8                 IDENTIFYING SLAVERY

8.1             There is no typical victim and some victims do not understand they have been exploited and are entitled to help and support.

8.2             However, the following key signs could indicate that someone may be a slavery or trafficking victim:

8.2.1          the person is not in possession of their own passport, identification or travel documents;
8.2.2          the person is acting as though they are being instructed or coached by someone else;
8.2.3          they allow others to speak for them when spoken to directly;
8.2.4          they are dropped off and collected from work;
8.2.5          the person is withdrawn or they appear frightened;
8.2.6          the person does not seem to be able to contact friends or family freely;
8.2.7          the person has limited social interaction or contact with people outside their immediate environment.

8.3             This list is not exhaustive.

8.4             Remember, a person may display a number of the trafficking indicators set out above but they may not necessarily be a victim of slavery or trafficking. Often you will build up a picture of the person’s circumstances which may indicate something is not quite right.

8.5             If you have a suspicion, report it.

9                 REPORTING SLAVERY

9.1             Talking to someone about your concerns may stop someone else from being exploited or abused.

9.2             If you think that someone is in immediate danger, dial 999. Otherwise, you should discuss your concerns with our compliance manager Becky Kilbourne who will decide a course of action and provide any further advice.

9.3             Not all victims may want to be helped and there may be instances where reporting a suspected trafficking case puts the potential victim at risk, so it is important that in the absence of an immediate danger, you discuss your concerns first with Becky Kilbourne before taking any further action.

10              TRAINING

10.1          We provide specialist training to all staff members.

10.2          Key staff in the UK will be regularly trained via workshops and training sessions via team leaders and managers.

10.3          Training will cover our code of conduct requirements and the law in relation to modern slavery and ensure this policy is read and understood by all staff.

10.4          We bring this policy to the attention of our suppliers and encourage our suppliers to establish their own risk assessment and inform them that we will continue to work with them to ensure our compliance standards are met.

10.5          We use OECD guidelines for reference. Training is also provided by Stronger Together. We work with different industry bodies to ensure comprehension of our policies by all staff.

11              MONITORING OUR PROCEDURES

11.1          We will review our Anti-slavery policy annually or sooner if any major challenges occur in industries that require immediate attention. We will provide information and/or training on any changes we make.

Whispering Smith Modern Slavery Statement was approved on behalf of the Senior Leadership Team on 14th September 2023 and signed by Diane Heslop, Financial Director.

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The author of this article is Anna Marianna White