German sportswear giant Adidas led the pack as four companies won a global award on Wednesday for shining a light on their own supply chains to eradicate modern slavery from their operations.
Adidas was revealed as the overall winner of the second Thomson Reuters Foundation Stop Slavery Award, which celebrates businesses that excel in efforts to identify, investigate and root out forced labor from their supply chains.
Global fashion retailer C&A, U.S. technology company Intel and British mutually-owned retail and services group The Co-operative Group were the other winners of the annual award designed by Turner Prize winning sculptor Anish Kapoor.
With modern slavery increasingly dominating headlines worldwide, businesses are under increasing pressure from both governments and consumers to disclose what actions they are taking to ensure their supply chains are free from slavery.
About 25 million people globally were estimated to be trapped in forced labor in 2016, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and rights group Walk Free Foundation.
"Whilst we have outsourced our production and manufacturing all over the world, we will not outsource our moral responsibility which is to do right by the 1.3 million workers who make our products," said Aditi Wanchoo, senior manager of social and environmental affairs at Adidas, at the Thomson Reuters Foundation's annual Trust Conference.
The winners were chosen from a shortlist of 15 companies that employ millions of people worldwide in sectors ranging from electronics and hospitality to retail and mining and included British multinational bank Barclays, Nestle and Walmart.
The shortlist was selected after businesses completed a detailed questionnaire, designed in partnership with human rights specialists at multi-national law firm Baker & McKenzie, giving details about 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.
Adidas, the world's second-biggest sportswear firm, was hailed for its transparent audits, strong responsible sourcing guidelines, and robust tools to trace higher-risk supply chains.
The sportswear giant was one of the world's first companies to create a role dedicated to fighting slavery, and uses technology to encourage workers to speak out about any abuses.
The Co-operative Group was honored for having excelled in business partnership and supplier engagement, and won praise for its 'Brighter Future' program which aims to offer jobs to 30 slavery and trafficking victims in Britain.
"We want to go further than our own supply chains in tackling modern slavery," said Pippa Wicks, deputy chief executive of The Co-operative Group.
Intel, the world's largest computer chipmaker, was awarded for its innovation, in particular an initiative which leverages the company's data analytics, and uses artificial intelligence to combat child sexual exploitation in the United States.
The company has openly discussed its anti-slavery efforts, and refused new business with several suppliers who have failed to implement measures to combat forced labor, the judges said.
Fashion retailer C&A, which was praised by the judges for going beyond compliance standards in all categories, called for more collaboration between brands, governments and civil society to implement projects which tackle slavery in source countries.
The C&A Foundation, affiliated with retailer C&A, is in a partnership with the Thomson Reuters Foundation on trafficking.
The Stop Slavery Award was won last year by multinational tech companies Hewlett Packard Enterprise and NXP Semiconductors.