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How Whitbread uses Sedex to tackle modern slavery in the construction industry

Whitbread PLC owns the popular UK hotel company Premier Inn, employing over 37,000 people. Whitbread also owns restaurant brands Beefeater, Brewers Fayre, Table Table, Cookhouse and Pub, and Bar + Block.

What was Whitbread looking for?

Whitbread joined Sedex in 2018 to continue to help their business source responsibly. One area, among many, that Whitbread have focused their efforts in mitigating modern slavery risk, is the construction industry. Whitbread regularly works with the construction sector in the development of new locations for its hotels and restaurants, and therefore wanted to ensure best practice working standards on all sites.

To tackle the complex challenges of understanding modern slavery, Sedex’s SMETA audits provided Whitbread with a vital opportunity to gather information from across Whitbread construction sites. The SMETA audit also provided Whitbread’s suppliers with tangible and practical measures that can be introduced within definitive timelines, delivering improvements to working conditions on both Whitbread sites and across their suppliers’ businesses.

How do Whitbread use Sedex in their business?

When joining Sedex, Whitbread ran a supplier engagement programme and asked the first tier of their suppliers to become a Sedex member. This enabled Whitbread to easily map their supply chain and then identify risks.

Whitbread uses Sedex Analytics to understand trends and common findings in its supply chain, and to share reports internally. Whitbread also uses Sedex Analytics to track non-compliances with suppliers, supporting those suppliers to adopt improvements to business practices.

Sedex has also been adopted across the Whitbread business, with teams around the world being upskilled to use the Sedex platform so they can review performance of suppliers internationally.

Whitbread maps its suppliers and assesses sector and country risk, as well as actual business risk, in its supply chain on an annual basis in partnership with Stop the Traffik. This is when Whitbread was able to identify the construction sector as an area of focus. Olivia Murphy, Whitbread’s Sustainability Manager says, “Many of our construction contractors became a Sedex member and then had a SMETA audit for the first time. This enabled Whitbread to proactively engage with suppliers on ethical issues.”

It also enabled Whitbread to review the SMETA audit criteria in a sector that has not previously been engaged with ethical auditing.

What other initiatives do Whitbread undertake to support their suppliers?

Whitbread strongly recognises the importance of responsible sourcing; ensuring this is just part of responsible procurement. In September 2019, Whitbread hosted a ‘Responsible Construction’ event, bringing together key strategic construction contractors, internal procurement and supply chain teams, onsite property teams, Whitbread partner NGO Stop the Traffik, its health and safety audit body Bernie Simms, and legal partners Bird&Bird.

This event was the first of its kind both at Whitbread and amongst its contractors. The event was set up to create a safe, collaborative and honest conversation between stakeholders. NGO Stop the Traffik and Bird&Bird delivered educational sessions for attendees to train suppliers on the importance of spotting signs of modern slavery and how to effectively manage this risk.

How did Sedex membership deliver results?

Sedex membership enabled Whitbread not only to start looking down its supply chain to understand inherent risk, but also to engage partners and suppliers to implement improvements:

  • Whitbread paid for all its key contractors to have SMETA audits allowing contractors to understand their risks and make improvements
  • Stop the Traffik upskilled all Whitbread teams on modern slavery and how to report concerns when visiting sites
  • Whitbread’s suppliers required additional time to allow a sufficient information gathering phase of SMETA audits, given the extensive health and safety practices in the construction industry. Sedex and Whitbread’s chosen Affiliate Audit Company collaborated to agree new timelines for construction audits.
  • Whitbread is in the process of creating a clear and concise ‘Responsible Construction’ information pack for suppliers on modern slavery
  • Whitbread upskilled its health and safety audit supplier, Bernie Simms, to increase the scope of their site visits to spot the signs of modern slavery

Whitbread was shortlisted for a Sedex Responsible Business Award in 2020, recognising their important work to source responsibly as well as their focus on the construction industry. Look out for the Awards later this year.

 “We are extremely proud to be the first large hotel group to join Sedex and use our membership to share best practice, understand risk and identify areas of concern”.