Transparency in supply chains
Transparency in supply chains
31 October 2023
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 2022 – 30 April 2023) 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 around 5,850 partners and staff across Continental Europe, the UK, Asia, the US, and in the Middle East and North Africa. We comply with all applicable employment legislation relating to employee terms and conditions, including pay. All UK employees earn at least the “Real Living Wage” set by the Living Wage Foundation.
Our top three areas of spend with suppliers (including contractors) are premises, technology, and professional services. 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 the last financial year was highly concentrated with large suppliers providing us technology, professional services and Human Resources services.
2. Risk assesment
In previous years, the firm’s modern slavery advisory group (see section 4, below) 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 advisory group identified on-site contracted business services as an area of relatively higher risk. Our approach to addressing this heightened risk is addressed below.
3. 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 have an internal policy on modern slavery which applies globally to all partners, employees, officers, consultants, contractors, volunteers, interns, casual workers, agency workers and others providing services to our firm from time to time.
- 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 dealt with confidentially, taken seriously and investigated as appropriate. The policy also covers the protection of whistle blowers.
- As alternative channels for raising concerns, we have the Freshfields global Speak Up Hotline (run by an independent service provider) and, in Germany, a separate Ethics hotline. The Speak Up hotline is also available to contractors, suppliers and other third parties.
- We also have the following internal policies to ensure we observe the highest personal, ethical and professional standards in everything we do and operate with integrity and respect at all times:
- Being Freshfields principles (setting out the expectations on our people in terms of conduct and reporting obligations);
- Harassment, bullying and other forms of unacceptable behaviour policy; and
- Equal Opportunities policy.
We continue to implement our Sustainable Procurement Strategy, including those elements related specifically to modern slavery.
- We have developed a structured approach to the management of suppliers (by tiering suppliers) which will allow Freshfields to target and assess Modern Slavery risks with our tier 1 global and UK suppliers, with regard to the risk assessment outlined above.
- We are expanding the assessment of our top suppliers by region (500+ suppliers covered already) and asking suppliers to commit to our Responsible Business Guidelines which address Modern Slavery (95% of the responses have confirmed adherence to our guidelines).
- We are reviewing our position and response to emerging legislation in Europe such as the German Supply Chain Act and we are working to align the response to existing practices, while also considering future legislation applicable in EU. We are developing a Suppliers’ Code of Conduct that sets our expectations of our Suppliers on ESG elements (including Modern Slavery) which will be communicated to our supply chain.
- 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 continue to operate our modern slavery advisory group (more details in section 4 below), which provides input on the structured approach to suppliers discussed above. Further, as part of our client sustainability practice, our lawyers assist our clients in respecting international human rights and complying with applicable legal obligations, while also advising on a range of related operational issues, including modern slavery compliance programmes, as detailed at: Human rights | Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
4. Due diligence processes
Our efforts in relation to modern slavery are supported by an expert advisory group which is chaired by a partner who specialises in Global Business and Human Rights. The advisory group is comprised of representatives from the following business functions:
- Risk and professional ethics;
- Internal audit;
- Responsible Business;
- Human Resources; and
- Global Business & Human Rights.
The purpose of the advisory group is to provide expert guidance and advice (including in relation to best practice) to the firm’s leadership (centrally, and across functions) in relation to modern slavery issues. In the last year, members of the advisory group have followed up with regional Chief Operating Officers regarding awareness and identification of modern slavery issues in the light of the risk assessment identified above, and have had discussions with the firm’s senior leadership regarding the management of modern slavery risk. In addition, our Internal Audit function specifically considers modern slavery in the context of office internal audits (particularly in the context of reviewing procurement and supplier contracts), with regard to the risk assessment outlined above, and with particular focus on higher-risk areas. As well as reviews in Spain and the US completed in the last financial year, Internal Audit also undertook an audit of the firm’s Global Procurement function with a focus on the UK, where the majority of the firm’s procurement occurs, and which has fed into the development of the structured approach to suppliers discussed above. As well as identifying opportunities to improve the firm’s controls that inhibit instances of modern slavery in its supply chain, these internal audits have had a subsidiary aim of ensuring increased awareness of modern slavery and its risks across the firm’s network of offices. Internal Audit has also been working with the firm’s new Head of Risk Management to ensure that the future internal audit programme is increasingly aligned with the firm’s view of its principal risks which include the firm’s evolving ESG agenda.
Our updated standard request for proposal (“RFP”) template, which includes two specific questions on modern slavery, has been in place for over 2 years and ensures sustainability (including modern slavery) is a core consideration of supplier selection. Our UK due diligence process also includes Modern Slavery elements and suppliers are asked to confirm adherence to our Responsible Business Guidelines.
We will continue to monitor our modern slavery due diligence processes on an ongoing basis and identify opportunities to strengthen the prevention of modern slavery within our business, particularly as our operations and the context in which we operate evolves and new risks for modern slavery potentially emerge.
5. Measuring effectiveness
As noted above, over 95% of our first tranche of core suppliers have confirmed their adherence to our Responsible Business Guidelines. In the context of our office internal audits, recommendations in respect of modern slavery have been provided to several of our global offices in relation to contractual best practice for on-site contracted business services, which have been accepted and acted upon.
In the last year, the firm has opened a shared services centre in Bratislava, Slovakia. In the opening of the Bratislava site, our procurement activities took into account our Responsible Business principles, in line with the risk assessment described above: for example all new IT Hardware for the new office was procured via our global IT Hardware provider who have committed to comply with our Responsible Business guidelines. Our global offices have also taken opportunities to integrate Responsible Business (including modern slavery) considerations in local purchasing decisions in higher risk areas: in the last year our Berlin office has tendered for new cleaning services and selected a provider specifically committed to our Responsible Business ambitions. We have not in the last year received any modern slavery-related complaints through our whistleblowing channels or our Speaking Up hotline.
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 Sustainability 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 year, for example, in the UK we successfully settled a judicial review case in the UK in which we acted for our longstanding client ATLEU, arguing that the lack of systems and controls to identify and protect survivors of trafficking within the prison system was unlawful. More about this case is available here: https://www.freshfields.com/en-gb/what-we-do/case-studies/modern-slavery-operational-guidance-for-prisons/.
This statement was authorised and approved on 31 October 2023 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)