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Transparency in supply chains

31 October 2019

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 2018 – 30 April 2019) 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 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 28 offices and 5,000 partners and staff worldwide, including approximately 2,400 in Continental Europe, over 1,750 in the UK, 400 in Asia, over 300 in the US and 85 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 2018-2019 was highly concentrated with large suppliers such as CBRE, Alexander Mann, Reed & MacKay 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).

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 [1] and human trafficking [2] 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.

  • We continued to operate our modern slavery working group (more details in section 3 below).
  • We prepared a new version of our 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. During the past year this policy has been reinforced in staff communications.
  • The firm’s standard contract terms have provisions relating specifically to modern slavery. These terms are mandated in new contracts and as an addendum to longer running existing contracts.
  • 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.

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 the partner responsible for Global Business and Human Rights within the firm. The group is comprised of representatives from the following business functions:

  • Procurement;
  • Risk and professional ethics;
  • Responsible Business;
  • Human Resources; and
  • Global Business & Human Rights.

The 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.

This year our working group held a plenary meeting to review the firm’s performance and progress in addressing Modern Slavery and to consider areas of specific risk further actions in 2019-2020. The group reviewed and made recommendations to update our supplier due diligence processes to take into feedback on what had been most effective. We discontinued the use of supplier questionnaires and moved to a system of direct communication and dialogue with suppliers on Modern Slavery questions.

4. Risk assessment

Having overseen an initial “heat mapping” exercise – taking into account factors including jurisdiction, category of spend and length of supply chain – in 2018-2019 the working group identified areas in which it would oversee the carrying out of 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.

The group oversaw the continued development of an internal “due diligence action plan”, and worked with our global procurement team to ensure the individual suppliers identified were contacted directly with targeted questions. The group reviewed the first responses and agreed follow up actions, with the intention wherever possible to enter into a constructive dialogue with suppliers.

As part of this exercise the group identified on-site contracted business services as an area of relatively higher risk.

In particular, we arranged meetings with one of our suppliers where our initial due diligence did not address all of our concerns. These meetings were attended by senior representatives of both companies, including our relevant contract managers, and allowed us to scrutinise the evidence submitted to address our concerns and to share views on “best practice”. We also agreed concrete follow-up actions.

5. Measuring effectiveness

Our working group identified the development of 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.

This year we had one whistleblowing complaint in relation to a supplier which, though it did not raise modern slavery concerns, did raise broader governance concerns with potential implications for modern slavery risk. We raised our concerns with the supplier and had several productive face-to-face meetings with senior representatives to address these concerns.

6. Training

Our global procurement team held a workshop with our in-house legal team which discussed the firm’s modern slavery contractual provisions. The aim was to ensure that all those charged with negotiating contracts on behalf of the firm are aware of the importance of the provisions, so they can be prioritised in contractual negotiations.

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, both in conference format and in individual sessions.

7. Collaboration and leadership

As members of the UN Global Compact UK Network’s working group on modern slavery, we participated in a “peer review” process alongside other businesses.

During the year the firm hosted, and provided speakers and panellists at three events, held in London and New York, under the auspices of the Innovation Forum, to review current developments in the area of business and 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; we won the Law Society of England & Wales’ “excellence in pro bono” award this year for our work in this area.

Members of the firm also provided pro bono support to the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law on its capacity-building and outreach in relation to Human Rights and Modern Slavery.


This statement was authorised and approved on 31 October 2019 by the Senior Partner on behalf of the Freshfields global partnership.


Edward Braham
Senior Partner



This statement has been signed by representatives of Freshfields worldwide to reflect the firm’s commitment to global working and our responsible business strategy.

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)