Corporate Leadership on Modern Slavery

How have companies responded to the UK Modern Slavery Act one year on?

About this research

This report is the result of a partnership between the Ethical Trading Initiative and Hult International Business School. The research focuses on the role of corporate leadership in addressing modern slavery, and highlights examples of what companies are doing, what they are learning, and what they regard as leadership in addressing this problem in complex global supply chains.

This report provides the first in-depth analysis of corporate perspectives on tackling modern slavery one year on from the introduction of the UK Modern Slavery Act.

Download a copy of the report below.

Corporate Leadership on Modern Slavery builds on similar work conducted in 2015, Corporate approaches to addressing modern slavery in supply chains

Who took part?

Companies that took part in in-depth interviews were selected because of their reputation as leaders on ethical trade or companies that have been public about their commitment to address modern slavery. Those taking part in the in-depth survey all had established policies and strategic commitments to ethical trade before the Act was passed.

In-depth interviews were conducted with 25 leading brands, retailers and suppliers, and 46 companies completed detailed online survey.

The following companies were willing to be named as participants: ASDA, British Airways, Coca Cola, Co-op, Gap Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, HP Inc., IKEA, Inditex, John Lewis Partnership, Li & Fung, Marks & Spencer, Marshalls, Nestle, Outerknown, Patagonia, People Tree, SABMiller, Sainsburys, Tchibo, Tesco, The Warehouse, The White Company.

The findings presented in this report reflect the insights and practices of this group of companies who are more advanced in their approach to addressing modern slavery, and not the practices of all companies required to report under the Modern Slavery Act.


Our specific aims were to:

  • Understand the perceptions of the prevalence of modern slavery, and how this is changing over time
  • Identify learning on how to address modern slavery. What are companies doing? How are they organizing themselves? What is driving their engagement with modern slavery, and what factors are supporting this engagement?
  • Provide insight on how the UK Modern Slavery Act has shaped corporate activities during the first year of its operation. How significant is the Act in helping organizations address modern slavery?
  • Understand what companies believe constitutes corporate leadership on tackling modern slavery, such as how they identify the core components of an effective response, define corporate leadership on this issue, and determine what benchmarks they should use to measure leadership in practice
  • Outline case studies of good practice in addressing modern slavery in supply chains, focusing on corporate practices that are having a direct impact on improving conditions for workers at risk of modern slavery

What did we find?

Corporate modern slavery

The report highlights the research findings in 6 key areas:

1. The Modern Slavery Act has been a game-changer

Twice as many CEOs and other senior executives (COO, CFO, Chairman) a actively involved in addressing modern slavery since the Modern Slavery Act came into force.

2. Addressing modern slavery is becoming a business-critical issue – for credibility with customers, investors, NGOs and the general public

77% of companies think there is a likelihood of modern slavery occurring in their supply chains.

3. Companies are making significant progress in addressing modern slavery

82% of companies believe that addressing human rights within their core business model is the most significant strategic indicator of corporate leadership on modern slavery.

4. Companies face numerous barriers and dilemmas in addressing modern slavery

42% of companies see the length and complexity of supply chains as one of the strongest barriers to effectively addressing modern slavery.

5. Senior leadership engagement is crucial

79% of companies cited senior leadership passion and engagement as a key driver of their modern slavery response.

6. Collaboration and partnerships are the way forward

Companies strongly believe effective engagement and action in partnership with governments, NGOs and charities, and other local stakeholders is critical for significant change.

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Summary Report

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Full Report

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Research team

This research is a partnership between the Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability at Hult International Business School and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). The project team is Quintin Lake, Jamie MacAlister, Matthew Gitsham and Nadine Page from Ashridge, and Cindy Berman from ETI.

How can I find out more?

Please contact or to find out more about this research.

This research builds on similar work conducted in 2015, Corporate approaches to addressing modern slavery in supply chains