By Paola Totaro
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Two multi-national tech companies previously questioned over labor and workforce conditions won a new global award on Wednesday for turning the spotlight onto their own supply chains to eradicate modern day slavery from their operations.
The inaugural Thomson Reuters Foundation Stop Slavery Award was conferred on U.S. technology company Hewlett Packard Enterprise and NXP Semiconductors, the world's largest chip supplier to the automotive industry.
The award, designed by Turner Prize winning sculptor Anish Kapoor, aims to recognize businesses that submit their labor practices to scrutiny and excel in efforts to investigate human rights abuses and clean up their supply chain.
The winners were chosen from a shortlist of 10 companies employing thousands of people in sectors ranging from electronics to retail to mining and included Apple, Tesco and global seafood producer Thai Union.
"As some of the biggest companies in the world, we have a particular responsibility to eradicate forced labor from our supply chains," Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitlam said in a video message as the award was announced at Trust Women, an annual trafficking and women's rights conference.
"I believe we need a combination of teamwork between individual corporations, governments, investors and other stakeholders to tackle the root causes of forced labor. Together I know we can."
The award to Hewlett Packard Enterprise, for transparency and response to challenge, recognized the company's commitment to seek expert input to scrutinize its supply chains and to share this information.
In 2011 Hewlett Packard, which has a workforce of about 315,000, recognized a growing risk for forced labor among foreign migrant workers, particularly in Southeast Asia, so hosted a series of anti-trafficking workshops with suppliers and labor agencies in the region.
Organisers of the award said it was interesting that all of the short-listed companies had received media attention highlighting modern slavery risks related to their business operations or supply chains.
The short-list was selected after companies completed a detailed questionnaire, designed in partnership with human rights specialists at multi-national law firm Baker & McKenzie, giving significant detail of their operations.
An independent specialist assessed the company submissions on the strength of anti-trafficking policies already in place as well as their ability to identify and respond to problems.
Judges chose Netherlands-based NXP Semiconductors, which employs 45,000 people in 35 countries, to win the award for policy and implementation, largely due to its robust internal practices and programs.
NXP's Chief Executive Richard Clemmer said the company's anti-slavery work began five years ago when a customer helped uncover evidence that recruitment companies were charging fees or holding families hostage for money to secure jobs at NXP.
"These were issues different to what the term 'slavery' usually means to people but we were able to eradicate it," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The company established an accountability system which requires its board of directors and CEO to sign off on all human trafficking policies and activities and this is backed up by global training protocols.
It also identifies vulnerable worker populations and conducts targeted training. In 2016, they retrained over 300 suppliers in Malaysia.
"This is the way we ensure we are good global citizens and that anyone we do business with follows the same high standards that we do," Clemmer said.
"We have a complete team that goes out to audit and train procurement organizations to establish the right principles and processes with suppliers. We train so that working conditions are safe and healthy."
(Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)