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Transparency in supply chains

Transparency in supply chains

13 November 2020

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 2019 – 30 April 2020) 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 5,200 partners and staff worldwide, including approximately 2,600 in Continental Europe, over 1,800 in the UK, 400 in Asia, over 300 in the US and 80 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 [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. 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: an updated version was published to our internal wiki in June 2019.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

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:

  • Procurement;
  • 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 2019-20, we continued with the approach approved by the working group of engaging in direct dialogue with key suppliers, rather than using questionnaires.

For example, two members of our working group carried out a site visit to assess risks during the fit-out works to our new London office. (Modern slavery issues had been addressed specifically both in the tender process and in the contract.)

Members of the working group also met with one of our main contract caterers. This meeting was attended by senior representatives of both companies, including our relevant contract managers, and allowed us to learn about and scrutinise the company’s approach to modern slavery and to share views on best practice. We also agreed concrete follow-up actions.

In the next year, the working group will review its progress to date and set further goals for taking forward our work in this area.

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:

  • On-site personnel (not directly employed);
  • Off-site personnel (not directly employed); and
  • 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.

In our next statement we hope to report on the proportion of our top 20 suppliers by spend with whom we have specific modern slavery contractual provisions in place.

6. Training

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. In addition, this year we commissioned a gap analysis of our procurement function from an external consultant, involving both a desk-based review and a sustainable procurement workshop, which took place in June 2019 and was attended by our procurement function and representatives from several other teams, including facilities and responsible business. 

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. This year, for example, we acted for the AIRE Centre intervening in the case of MS (Pakistan) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2020] UKSC 9.More information on this case is available here.


This statement was authorised and approved on 13 November 2020 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)