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Modern slavery and the supply chain: the limits of corporate social responsibility?

Stephen John New (Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 14 September 2015




This conceptual paper aims to examine modern slavery in the supply chain, showing how the issue challenges conventional thinking and practice in corporate social responsibility (CSR).


The paper considers the differences between modern slavery and other concerns within CSR. It examines legal attempts to encourage supply chain transparency and the use of corporate CSR methods. An example of forced labour in UK agriculture is used to develop a critique of these approaches. The paper examines the challenges facing research in this important area.


The paper shows that the distinctive characteristics of modern slavery may make conventional supply chain CSR practices relatively ineffective. A holistic perspective may be needed in future research.

Research limitations/implications

Researchers need to focus less on the espoused policies of corporations, and more on the enacted practice.

Social implications

Modern slavery is universally accepted as a shameful blight on society; firms’ supply chain practices may be part of the problem.


The paper’s contribution is to point to the potential differences between modern slavery and other CSR-related issues and to highlight the paradox that firms’ approaches to the issue may run in parallel with actions that foster the problem in the first place.



New, S.J. (2015), "Modern slavery and the supply chain: the limits of corporate social responsibility?", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 20 No. 6, pp. 697-707.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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