In July 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed The Works website for information on how the company managed workers' rights in its supply chain. A ‘Modern Slavery Statement 2019’ and its ‘Annual Report and Accounts 2020’ was found.
Supply chain policy (poor)
A strong policy would include the following commitments: no use of forced labour, permission of freedom of association, payment of a living wage, the restriction of working hours to 48 hours plus 12 overtime (without exception), no use of a child labour (under 15 or 14 if ILO exempt), no discrimination by race, sex or for any other reason.
The company stated that its Modern Slavery Statement addressed both its business and supply chains. The company stated that it was “committed to the prevention of forced labour and child labour”, though no minimum age was specified. In its Annual Report and Accounts, The Works stated that it was “committed to the prevention of slavery, forced labour or servitude, child labour and human trafficking, in our business and supply chain. We have an established Ethical Trading Code of Conduct and Human Rights Policy for our partners, manufacturers and suppliers.” The Ethical Trading Code of Conduct was also said to include requirements on wages. However, none of these documents could be found.
In relation to the working hours, in its Modern Slavery Statement, the company stated that it complied with its “legal obligations to ensure the health and safety of all its colleagues and workers, including in relation to hours, rest breaks and holidays”, but failed to explicitly state a limit in hours in a working week.
Overall, as The Works did not provide adequate policies on any criteria other than forced labour, nor specify an age limit for child labour, the company received a poor rating for Supply Chain Policy.
Stakeholder engagement (poor)
Ethical Consumer deemed it necessary for companies to demonstrate stakeholder engagement, such as through membership of the Ethical Trade Initiative, Fair Labour Association or Social Accountability International. Companies were also expected to engage with Trade Unions, NGOs and/or not-for-profit organisations which could systematically verify the company's labour standards, and for workers to have access to an anonymous complaints system, free of charge and in their own language.
The Works did not appear to be a member of any form of multi-stakeholder initiative. The company did not mention any policies relating to third party involvement or systematic input from NGOs and/or labour and/or not-for-profit in the country of supply. There also did not appear to be any form of complaints process.
Overall, The Works did not provide sufficient evidence of any policies relating to Stakeholder Engagement and therefore received a poor rating for this section.
Auditing and reporting (poor)
Ethical Consumer deemed it necessary for companies to have an auditing and reporting system. Results of audits should be publicly reported and quantitatively analysed. The company should have a scheduled and transparent audit plan that applies to their whole supply chain, including some second tier suppliers. The company should also have a staged policy for non-compliance. The costs of the audit should be borne by the company.
In the company’s Modern Slavery statement, the company stated that “We carry out independent monitoring of suppliers using third-party auditing companies having local country knowledge and an understanding of social and ethical requirements.” However, there was no evidence of the results of audits.The company failed to provide a schedule of the audits.
Regarding the breadth of the supply chain and audits, the company stated that its independent monitoring was applicable to all its suppliers, but did not specify tier 1 or tier 2 suppliers.
Regarding remediation, the company provided some information on handling of non-compliance with its code of conduct; “if a factory fails to have reached an acceptable standard or there is any evidence of child labour or forced labour as described in the Modern Slavery legislation, the factory will be delisted and all orders will be cancelled”. However, Ethical Consumer considered an adequate remediation policy to not write off the supplier but present a staged approach. Therefore, this policy was deemed inadequate.
The company made no reference to who would bear the costs of the audits.
Therefore, due to the lack of adequate policies around auditing and reporting The Works received a poor rating in this section.
Difficult issues (rudimentary)
Ethical Consumer also deemed it necessary for companies to address other difficult issues in their supply chains. This would include ongoing training for agents, or rewards for suppliers meeting labour standards, or preference for long term suppliers. It would also include acknowledgement of audit fraud and unannounced audits, and measures taken to address the issue of living wages, particularly among outworkers, and illegal freedom of association.
Regarding purchasing, The Works stated that it had a commitment to “developing long-term relationships with suppliers who share our commitment to eradicating slavery and human trafficking”. There was no evidence that there was any ongoing or scheduled training for buying agents on labour standards in the supply chain.
The company did not refer to audit fraud as an issue, nor did it acknowledge problems around freedom of association or outworkers. The company did not appear to have taken systematic measures to address the living wage.
As it only stated a preference for long term suppliers, The Works received a rudimentary score for its approach to difficult issues.
Overall, The Works received a worst rating for its Supply Chain Management.
The Works.co.uk PLC annual report and accounts 2020 (29 June 2021)