Monday, December 16, 2019

Modern Slavery and Art Media, Materials & Supplies

Next time you use a paint using cobalt you might want to think about whether and how your purchase is contributing to the continuation of modern slavery.

This post is about:
  • child slaves being used to mine cobalt
  • the law and regulation in the UK, California and Australia - relating to Modern Slavery and the need for the proper audit of supply chains
  • whether art materials manufacturers and distributors are transparent about their actions to recognise and identify any modern slavery practices in their supply chains and, in particular, child slavery
  • a detailed listing of current practices by different manufacturers and retailers of art materials and supplies

How this blog post started

I was really shocked this morning when I read about how children were being used to mine cobalt in the CongoIt stayed with me all day - hence this post.

I have absolutely no idea where the cobalt comes from which is used in "Cobalt Blue" - but this article might make you pause the next time you reach for this colour.

Earlier today, I wondered aloud on my Facebook page about how many manufacturers of art materials were taking appropriate action to ensure that there were no children involved in mining cobalt to produce the cobalt oxide which then contributes to "cobalt Blue".
Cobalt pigments such as cobalt blue (cobalt aluminate), cerulean blue (cobalt(II) stannate), various hues of cobalt green (a mixture of cobalt(II) oxide and zinc oxide), and cobalt violet (cobalt phosphate) are used as artist's pigments because of their superior chromatic stability.[96][97] Wikipedia | Cobalt

Cobalt Blue pigment

Are art supplies companies transparent about sources?

I then began to wonder how many other current components of art materials might be tainted by association with modern slavery.
Companies have a moral responsibility of ensuring that no slavery has been used in producing the products they sell. This should apply not only to goods produced in their own factories but also to their suppliers, and suppliers of their suppliers, all the way down the supply chain. Slavery in Supply Chains | Anti Slavery
A little while passed and I wondered some more why human slavery was much less of an issue and had a much lower profile than for example
  • breeding/saving sables from having their hair taken for brushes.
  • the extent to which animal products formed part of art materials (see Schminke page
Child slaves don't get a choice about what they can do.......

My conclusions from taking a look at the current situation in relation to art materials/media and modern slavery is that:
  • priorities need to be reviewed
  • most of the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act (see below) completely bypass companies which produce or distribute art materials and media - mainly because they are too small in turnover terms to be regulated by current legislation
  • we know extremely little about the extent to which modern slavery might be related to the production of art materials
  • HOWEVER good practice does not require regulation.  There's nothing to stop companies which manufacture art materials and media being honest and ethical and providing statements on their website saying what they currently do to ensure that modern slavery is not involved in the production of art media sold to the public. 
Here's how I arrived at my conclusions. 

Modern Slavery

I started by looking at the legislation, regulations and government guidance for organisations on how to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in their business or supply chains.
consumers and businesses are inadvertently promoting and sanctioning these crimes through the purchase of goods and products that have been tainted in the supply chain, and that, absent publicly available disclosures, consumers are at a disadvantage in being able to distinguish companies on the merits of their efforts to supply products free from the taint of slavery and trafficking. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act

This Act requires entities based, or operating, in Australia, which have an annual consolidated revenue of more than $100 million, to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, and actions to address those risks.

But interestingly in Europe, the situation seems to be one of encouragement but no laws or and regulations..... Why not?  Also is it only California in the USA? Why not Canada?

Manufacturers of Paint and Coloured Art Media

I then wondered how many manufacturers of art materials had adequate statements about what they were doing to prevent child slavery and other abhorrent practices.

So I started looking at their websites - to see whether this issue is being taken seriously - and below you can find out what I found.
Commercial organisations subject to the 2015 Modern Slavery Act ('the Act') must report annually on the steps that they have taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in their own business or in their supply chains
Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires a commercial organisation to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year of the organisation if its total turnover is not less than an amount prescribed by the Secretary of State.

BELOW is my very simple audit of the absolute basic requirement for several companies involved in the manufacture or distribution or retail of art materials.

The basic requirement for certain companies is to have completed an annual statement which is compliant with the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. (Similar to the requirement to produce annual accounts)
A commercial organisation is required to publish an annual statement if all the criteria below apply:
  • it is a ‘body corporate’ or a partnership, wherever incorporated or formed
  • it carries on a business, or part of a business, in the UK
  • it supplies goods or services

Production of an annual statement 

My expectation (as an ex-auditor and ex-government inspector) would be that every statement made and highlighted on a website would show:
  • which financial or calendar year it relates to
  • all the actions taken in that specific financial year - and updates on past actions
  • a date when it was signed off
  • the name or the authority signing off within the company
  • whether or not it has been audited - and if so by whom and when (like audited accounts)
The provision requires an organisation to be transparent about what is happening within its business. This means that if an organisation has taken no steps to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place they must still publish a statement stating this to be the case. Transparency in Supply Chains A Practical Guide 2017
Basically I looked at the front page of their website and then scrolled to the bottom to see if the section where all statutorily required statements should be located included a statement about Modern Slavery.
The Modern Slavery Act requires that modern slavery statements be approved at the highest level of a company, typically the board of directors. Statements must also be signed by a director. Modern slavery statements: key updates for employers | Personnel Today
BELOW are the results. Note that only companies which have a turnover exceeding £36 million and which are trading as a business in the UK are required to comply with the Modern Slavery Act.

Turnover data for all UK companies is easily checked via Companies House Data which must be filed on an annual basis and is easily accessible online if required to file.

Turnover is the total sales generated by a business in a specific period. It's sometimes referred to as gross revenue, or income. It's different to profit, which is a measure of earnings
However those having turnover less than a certain amount (i.e. less than that required to produce a Modern Slavery statement) can restrict information relating to their accounts including the turnover figure. (However it can sometimes estimated by looking back at past years prior to legislation which obscures turnover)


I'd love to hear from manufacturers as to 

  • their source of their cobalt / materials for their manufactured versions of Cobalt Blue and 
  • whether or not they have made attempts to verify its extraction involves child slavery.

ACCO / Derwent 

  • - link to Modern Slavery Act statement on the website. 
  • relates to fiscal year ending 31 December 2018
  • indicates posted 19th July 2019
  • signed on every page
  • lacks the name of the designated director acting on behalf of the company (is there one?)
  • links to further information do not work

Daler Rowney  

  • fairly basic (eg compare to Derwent and Hobbycraft)
  • not dated 
  • no evidence that it has been updated since first written
  • nothing specific as to what happened in 2018/19

Michael Harding

  • very informative website BUT Total exemption full accounts - hence does not meet the Turnover requirement and no statement on the website

Roberson & Co

  • Total exemption small company accounts -  hence does not meet the Turnover requirement and no statement on the website

Unison Colour

Winsor & Newton 

  • manufactured outside the UK (No EU requirement on slavery?) - hence no company accounts reflecting manufacture for the UK


Colart Fine Art & Graphics (distributor) re. W&N

  • Does not meet the Turnover requirement - hence no statement on the website
  • Corporate data / statements about the company generally lacking
  • Breaches a number of other UK regulatory requirements as well!


  • Website includes a Modern Slavery Statement 
    • relates to a specific time period
    • includes relevant processes / general sense of continuous working environment
    • not specific as to what they have discovered or changed since previous year
    • signed and dated by the Chief Executive Officer 
Human trafficking is considered a zero tolerance issue at Hobbycraft. If evidence of forced, bonded, indentured, slave and/or prison labour is found, Hobbycraft reserves the right to terminate the business relationship and report the matter to the relevant authorities.

Other companies

Other companies distributing art materials that I checked didn't meet the requirement for £36 million turnover i.e. they have "Total exemption full accounts" listings on the Companies House website.

That doesn't mean they don't have an ethical responsibility to ask questions......
....and they're much better placed to do this than individual artists

Plus companies can only deny that there is any slavery if they made the relevant checks and asked the relevant questions......

As always comments on this blog are now closed - but feel free to comment on the link to this blog post on my Facebook Page


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