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Call for research: visibility of long supply chains

Call for responsive research proposals on establishing visibility and influence over long and complex supply chains.

Published: 30th September 2021

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC) has issued a targeted call for research proposals on business and supply chains.

Modern slavery in supply chains is a priority research area for the Modern Slavery PEC. It is one of the four research priorities in the Modern Slavery PEC strategy, identified through an extensive consultation process, including with a group of business stakeholders. The need for better evidence on the prevention of modern slavery in supply chains has also been highlighted in the UK Government’s research priorities for modern slavery, and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s strategic plan.

There is widespread agreement on the important role of businesses in helping to address modern slavery both in their operations and in their supply chains. Although there is a broad consensus on the strategic priorities for work on modern slavery and supply chains across the sector, the challenge, as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner remarks in her strategic plan, is one of delivery. While promising initiatives are underway (including existing research funded by the Modern Slavery PEC), there remain evidence gaps about the most effective ways businesses can best address modern slavery in practice.

Key evidence gaps include, but are not limited to:

  • The mapping of the full range of suppliers and relationships within complex, inter-connected and multi-tiered supply chains;
  • Practical approaches to influencing the behaviour of businesses in the lower tiers of those supply chains;
  • The range of response options and method when cases of modern slavery are discovered;
  • What new forms of collaboration (within and across sectors, and trans-nationally) can be facilitated and encouraged;
  • What the barriers are that may prevent some businesses either (i) prioritising or (ii) taking action on modern slavery; and
  • How to define and measure the impact of interventions undertaken to address modern slavery in supply chains.

We need more and better evidence in response to these gaps in order to support businesses as they develop their own plans and processes, individually and collectively, to address modern slavery.

The outputs from this research project will contribute to the evidence base for businesses to draw on and use to inform their efforts. They will also help to address an evidence gap identified by the finance sector in relation to how financial institutions can best use new or existing levers to prevent or mitigate supply chain modern slavery risk. The PEC will further use the findings to influence ongoing policy development, such as the future development and implementation of planned changes to section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act.

About the call

This call is part of the Modern Slavery PEC Responsive Research mechanism that has been created to fund responsive and agile research projects. It is led directly by the PEC, but is funded and actively supported by the Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC).

The aim of this research call is to further explore how businesses can establish and increase their visibility and influence over (particularly) the lower tiers of long and complex supply chains, in order to prevent or mitigate the risk of modern slavery. The research will therefore speak to all four of the evidence gaps outlined above. The research findings should support the development of practical guidance for businesses wishing to take more effective action to address modern slavery.

The objectives of this research are to:

  • Conceptualise the range of understandings within businesses of what constitutes effective supply chain governance in the context of requirements to address modern slavery;
  • Map schematically the approaches that businesses are taking to put those understandings into practice;
  • Collect evidence, whether in the form of academic research, grey literature or internal business reports, as to the relative effectiveness of those approaches; and
  • Identify specific examples of effective supply chain governance.

Potential methods or approaches could include:

  • Interviews with key stakeholders, including workers or appropriate representative bodies such as trade unions
  • Comprehensive literature review
  • In-depth case studies
  • Analysis of individual companies
  • Analysis of specific sector situations and initiatives

In accordance with the Modern Slavery PEC’s strategic objective of facilitating collaboration, successful teams will work in collaboration with the Modern Slavery PEC throughout the project to ensure alignment with our objectives and to maximise impact. This will include developing the research methodology and developing outputs such as the full report and summary briefing, as well as their dissemination.

The Modern Slavery PEC has allocated a maximum budget of £70,000 at 100% full economic cost (FEC) for this project. We expect to fund one project for this work. The project must be led by a UK higher education institution or approved research organisation eligible to receive UKRI funding, and it must be carried out in collaboration with at least one non-academic partner.

You can find the full details and specification of the call in the application pack below, as well as the project costing template and examples of funding scenarios.

Application process

The applications to this call must be made through our online form.

All applications will be reviewed by an assessment panel convened by the Modern Slavery PEC that will include external independent reviewers.

The deadline for applications is 4pm (UK time) 12 November 2021.

The decision on the award of the funding will be made by week beginning 6 December, with the project due to start by 17 January 2022 the latest, and final outputs to be delivered by 17 May 2022.

Call Webinar & FAQ

We will hold a webinar for prospective applicants to provide them with the opportunity to hear more about the Modern Slavery PEC and its strategic objectives and principles, offer an overview of the call, and give more information on how the successful bid team will collaborate with the Modern Slavery PEC during the research. The webinar will take place on 14 October 2021 at 12 noon (UK time).