Ending Exploitation in Supermarket Supply Chains

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:29 pm on 18th October 2018.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 1:29 pm, 18th October 2018

I thank Kerry McCarthy for securing the agreement of the Backbench Business Committee to hold this debate. We can all agree that it has been valuable and has sent out clear messages to the businesses and people involved in increasingly complex international supply chains about the expectations not just of the House, but of the public at large. Although the hon. Member for Cardiff East said—[Interruption.] Forgive me, I meant Carolyn Harris—I am causing all sorts of trouble in Wales, sorry. My shadow number was right to say that what we have lacked in number we have more than made up for in quality and the range of issues raised across this debate. I hope Members will excuse me if I do not manage to answer all their points, but I hope to tackle a great many of them.

We are all agreed that modern slavery is an invidious and destructive crime that affects some of the most vulnerable people in society. This Government are determined to end this injustice and eliminate this exploitation in our communities and in the global economy. Since the passing of the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015, we have seen more convictions and arrests every year and increased specialist support for victims. There are currently more than 950 live investigations into accusations of modern slavery, and the Government will invest at least £61 million this year alone into work to end modern slavery in the United Kingdom and abroad.

The quality of today’s speakers will become clear as I attempt to answer many of their excellent points. The hon. Member for Bristol East set out the complexity of international supply chains, and I know that she and others support the Prime Minister’s call at the United Nations last year for us to end slavery by 2030. It is an ambitious target to set ourselves, but the Prime Minister has clearly identified a will within the international community to do that. More than 80 countries have signed up to the call for action, and a great deal of work is flowing from that effort.

The hon. Member for Bristol East also mentioned seafood from Thailand, and I am pleased that she and other Members took the opportunity to educate and inform the wider public as to some of the conditions that we are learning of when it comes to how seafood is extracted from our seas. In fairness, some UK supermarkets, including Tesco and Morrisons, are members of the Seafood Task Force, an industry-led coalition of retailers, Governments and NGOs set up to address the human rights abuses and seafood supply chains that the hon. Lady so clearly identified in her speech. If she will bear with me, I will deal with her other points later.

Moving on with great excitement to the speech of my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes, my Lincolnshire colleague and friend reflected in his usual stylish way on the changes to the high street during his short lifetime. He painted a picture of the high streets in our county as they were only a few years ago and then the differences that we now face, describing with chilling accuracy the business conditions that many of his and my farmers in Lincolnshire face at the hands of large supermarkets. He made particular reference to delayed payments. Since April last year, all large UK businesses have had a duty to report publicly on their payment policies, practices and performance, because the Government recognise the helpfulness of transparency in driving change. If he or any other Member is aware of supermarkets that are not playing their part, I ask them to let me and the relevant Ministers know, so that we can ask why they are not doing what they are obliged to do.

My right hon. Friend and other Members also mentioned the proposed merger of Sainsbury’s and Asda. The Competition and Markets Authority is investigating independently, but I am pleased to note that the Select Committees on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wrote a joint letter in early May to the CMA raising concerns about the impact that the merger would have on the grocery supply chain and asking for details on the approach of any investigation. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy also wrote to the CMA in May to stress the importance of considering the possible impact on the supply chain, among other competition-related issues.