The call comes as Eversheds, in its own survey of 200 businesses – including those in the food and drink sector – found that 8% of board directors did not think that the responsibility for human rights came from the top.
The report, 'On the right path', also revealed that almost half (43%) of businesses said that they believed the senior leadership lacked commitment to human rights.
Disclosure of human rights
Under the Modern Slavery Act, companies must report annually on the steps that they have taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in their own business or in their supply chains.
New regulations under the Non-Financial Disclosure Directive are set to come into force in December. This requires all businesses of a certain size, such as large food manufacturers, to disclose human rights risks and the steps they have taken to manage them.
Thomas Player, a partner at legal firm Eversheds, told Foodmanufacture.co.uk that businesses should know what their human rights responsibilities were.
“They should identify where their human rights issues might be both in their organisations and importantly for food manufacturers in their supply chain. They should then report on them and if they are causing or contributing to human rights issues they should find remedies,” said Player.
He said that while manufacturers might not be causing or contributing to human rights abuses they might be aligned with supplier or a country that is. He said this is a major challenge for the food sector as the supply chain is “long and complex” and there is no “quick fix”.
“It is not just supply chains in Africa with items such as cocoa or coffee. The big issue for food manufacturing is the agricultural sector. It can be supermarkets buying bagged salads from parts of Spain and there has even been modern slavery issues discovered in the UK,” he said.
He predicted that the directive would “probably” change how companies reported in their strategic review within their annual reports.
“They are supposed to report on any human rights risks identified including any due diligence risks in the supply chain and what steps they are taking. This points to a harder law, which is requiring companies to up their game and have moral and ethical leadership,” he argued.