Transparency in supply chains
Transparency in supply chains
31 October 2021
This statement is made in accordance with section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the Act), and sets out the steps taken in our last financial year (1 May 2020 – 30 April 2021) throughout our global business to identify and reduce the risk of modern slavery occurring within either our business or supply chains.
1. Overview of our business and supply chains
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is a global law firm, operating as a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales (with registered number OC334789) and authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA no. 484861), with branches and related undertakings across the world. The world’s biggest international organisations rely on us to help them make the right decisions in a fast-changing world. We combine the knowledge, experience and energy of the whole firm to solve our clients’ most complex challenges, wherever and whenever they arise. This statement is published on behalf of Freshfields globally.
Freshfields has 29 offices and 5,800 partners and staff worldwide, including approximately 2,900 in Continental Europe, over 1,900 in the UK, 400 in Asia, over 400 in the US and 90 in the Middle East and North Africa.
Our top three areas of spend with suppliers (including contractors) are premises, technology and human resources. Freshfields’ spend is centred in the UK and Germany – both in terms of the location of our contract / procurement management and the location of our first-tier suppliers – with smaller local supplier agreements at the level of each office. Our spend, by value, in financial year 2019-2020 was highly concentrated with large suppliers such as CBRE, Alexander Mann, Computacenter and UK Zones.
2. Our approach to modern slavery
Freshfields is committed to combatting modern slavery in all its forms. This is an explicit priority within the firm’s Responsible Business programme which forms a key element of the firm’s wider strategy. We expect the same high standards of those we work with (see further details below). More generally, our commitment to responsible business, observing the highest ethical standards and acting with integrity is embodied in the firm’s values.
We have been a supporter of the United Nations Global Compact since 2009, and, within our sphere of influence and in our role as professional advisors, are committed to supporting and enacting values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption. These are key features of our Responsible Business approach.
As an international business with global supply chains, we adopt the international law definitions of forced labour  and human trafficking  to frame our response to modern slavery as part of our Responsible Business programme and in fulfilling our responsibilities under the Act. Relevant national criminal offences are addressed by us accordingly.
In addition to this high-level commitment, we have several operational policies relevant to our approach to this issue and these are subject to continuous review and development. They are published on the firm’s intranet which is available to all employees.
- We continued to operate our modern slavery working group (more details in section 3 below).
- We have an internal policy on modern slavery.
- Our internal whistleblowing policy encourages anyone who suspects wrongdoing, explicitly including modern slavery abuses, to report it as soon as possible, in the knowledge that concerns will be taken seriously and investigated as appropriate. The policy also covers the protection of whistle blowers.
- We have a new Sustainable Procurement Strategy with provisions relating specifically to modern slavery. This strategy was communicated to all Senior Directors and Chief Operating Officers globally in January 2021.
- The firm’s standard contract terms have provisions relating specifically to modern slavery. These terms are mandated in new contracts over a minimum value and as an addendum to longer running existing contracts on renewal.
- We also ask all suppliers to follow our Responsible Business Procurement Guidelines. These guidelines are publicly available (linked from our homepage) and include operating principles which are applicable both to ourselves and to our suppliers. These guidelines were updated in February 2021.
3. Due diligence processes
We continue to direct our efforts through our modern slavery working group, which reports to our senior partner and is chaired by a partner who specialises in Global Business and Human Rights. The working group is comprised of representatives from the following business functions:
- Risk and professional ethics;
- Responsible Business;
- Human Resources; and
- Global Business & Human Rights.
The working group also has two external members from the NGO community experienced in Modern Slavery and human rights to ensure an independent and challenging voice and to support transparency.
During 2020-21, we continued with the approach approved by the working group of engaging in direct dialogue with key suppliers, in addition to using questionnaires.
Our standard request for proposals (“RFP”) template was updated in March 2021 and now includes two questions specific to modern slavery. In addition, our standard scoring matrix has been updated, with sustainability (including modern slavery) now of equal weight to commercial considerations. The new matrix was communicated to Senior Directors and Chief Operating Officers in March 2021, and has already led directly to changes in how we consider suppliers for selection.
In the next year, we will undertake a thorough review of the working group’s progress to date, its purpose and goals.
4. Risk assessment
In previous years, the working group oversaw an initial “heat mapping” exercise – taking into account factors including jurisdiction, category of spend and length of supply chain – and the identification of specific areas in which it would oversee further, detailed due diligence in relation to modern slavery in our supply chains on a pilot basis. These areas were in the following categories:
1. On-site personnel (not directly employed);
2. Off-site personnel (not directly employed); and
3. Products procurement.
As part of this exercise the working group identified on-site contracted business services as an area of relatively higher risk.
5. Measuring effectiveness
Our working group identified the development of further metrics as a key priority. In particular, as we move to the next stage of our due diligence process, we want to develop measures to track outcomes as well as inputs.
Of our top twenty suppliers, seven (35%) are engaged by us through contracts that deal specifically with modern slavery. We are actively looking at adding such provisions in the remaining thirteen as they come up for renewal.
In addition to the firm’s policies set out in section 3 above, the firm maintains global business and human rights and modern slavery toolkits that are designed to provide our lawyers with the practical resources that they need to advise our clients on human rights and modern slavery issues. A training programme has been created to assist our lawyers in understanding how these issues might arise in our clients’ businesses, including their global supply chains and how our clients can respond to these issues. This training has been provided to our lawyers on a global basis with in-depth region-specific sessions in Asia, the Middle East and the US, as well as in the UK and our other European offices.
We have continued to provide information and training on modern slavery issues to our clients, in conference format, in individual sessions and through our Business and Human Rights blog.
The topic of modern slavery is discussed at every procurement quarterly review session to ensure the priority of the topic within the team is maintained.
7. Collaboration and leadership
We are members of the UN Global Compact UK Network’s working group on modern slavery.
Through our pro bono practice we continue to act directly for victims of human trafficking, and for charities working to combat human trafficking.
This statement was authorised and approved on 27 October 2021 by the Senior Partner on behalf of the Freshfields global partnership.
(Senior Partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP)
(London COO; Director, Freshfields Services Company Limited)
(US Regional Managing Partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP)
(Asia Regional Managing Partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Hong Kong Partnership)
Rick van Aerssen
(Managing Partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Rechtsanwälte Steuerberater PartG mbB and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Rechtsanwälte PartG mbB)
1Article 2, International Labour Organisation Forced Labour Convention 1930; Article 1, Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957
2Article 3, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo, 2000)