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Modern Slavery – a hidden problem

By 18th October 2018Blog

By Ross Houghton, CSR Manager

What is modern slavery?

It’s all around us, but we just don’t see it. Modern slavery is the hidden crime of our time. It exists in a range of forms. Some will never impact us directly, but others may touch our lives daily and we will be completely oblivious to it. The slavery which takes place in the UK can be in the form of forced and often unpaid domestic servants, sex workers and even sweat shops. But of course, they are all kept as far out of sight as possible, and people forced into slavery have no opportunity or are too afraid to speak out. It is estimated that there are 2.1 slaves in the UK for every 1,000 people, which means there are around 136,000 in total. Figures are similar for Belgium, France and Germany.

How could it affect me?

The truth is, it may never affect you directly. It is perhaps more relevant to ask the question “How could I affect it?” Many of the choices we make on a daily basis can affect whether slave labour is used. First thing in the morning, the coffee or tea you choose to drink could mean the difference between forced labour being used or not. These simple choices we make can have a huge impact on the lives of others.

What is the government doing to prevent it?

The Modern Slavery Act was introduced into law in the UK in 2015. The law requires all UK businesses which have annual turnover over £36 million to publish details of the measures they are taking to ensure that slavery is not happening within their business or anywhere in their supply chain. As part of this, businesses need to have modern slavery policies and due diligence processes in place, and must assess and address risks of slavery.

However, the government could do more. Many businesses are failing to meet the requirements of the act, but non-compliance is often not addressed. According to the Business and Human Rights Resources Centre, as of March 2018 only two thirds of the companies which should be issuing a modern slavery statement had actually done so.

There are also some separate initiatives to combat slavery. In April 2018, ahead of a major Commonwealth summit, the government announced that it had allocated £5.5m to fund efforts to eradicate forced labour and trafficking in Commonwealth countries.

Some nations have implemented more stringent requirements than the UK. In France, any company which has over 5,000 employees within the country or 10,000 globally is required by law to have a vigilance plan in place. This should cover human rights in their internal organisation as well as in their supply chains.

What steps are businesses taking to prevent it?

Some businesses are keen to demonstrate their ethical credentials and are implementing schemes where workers’ rights are promoted. Many companies are also making greater efforts to improve the auditing of their supply chains.

For more information on Modern Slavery and the steps that businesses can take, read this blog from June 2017

Will Brexit have an impact?

One of the potentially damaging consequences of Brexit for the UK would be no longer having access to the European Arrest Warrant scheme or Europol. Trafficking networks usually span several countries, and sometimes more than one continent, so it is essential to have cross-border cooperation in order to tackle slavery. Furthermore, any damage to the UK economy caused by Brexit could impact support services and policing – which could make it harder for people affected by slavery to get the help they need.

Modern slavery may be receiving some attention, but much more will need to be done to eradicate this problem globally. As we mark Anti-Slavery Day, it is worth remembering to play our own part in helping to tackle slavery by opting for slavery-free fairtrade products whenever possible.

Find out more about Anti- Slavery day here

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