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What does modern slavery have to do with me and business compliance?

Posted by James Morelli-Green | 16-Jun-2017 17:20:32


Mention slavery to someone you know. Anyone. Even if you haven't spoken to them since that time they dissed your latest selfie (let it go, we all know you used filters anyway). Their response may well be something like "It's illegal now, right?". Well, yep, it is. In fact, thankfully, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire by the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. They may also describe chain gangs trudging across the historical planes of America, or ship owners transporting enslaved people to the 'New World' until the Slave Trade Act of 1807 put an overdue stop to it. What you're unlikely to hear is that, while most think that slavery only exists in history books, modern slavery in the UK is sadly thriving. In fact, the British Government estimates that around 13,000 people are in modern slavery in the UK today. That's a whole 184 years since it was first abolished. What does that have to do with you? What does it have to do with modern business compliance? Well, quite a bit actually and it may surprise you...

Most people who are trapped in the grips of modern slavery are trafficked into the UK from overseas, although there is also a significant number of British nationals reportedly in conditions that would be defined as slavery too. Most commonly, these people are forced into labour in industries such as agriculture, construction, hospitality, manufacturing and car washes. Many people, mostly women and young girls, also end up in situations of domestic slavery, performing a range of tasks in private homes or guest houses, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, taking care of children and the elderly and running errands. The pay, if any, is often very, VERY low, with payments frequently delayed. Some workers may only receive ‘payment in kind’ such as food or accommodation.They may be in this situation against their will, feel trapped, are afraid of the consequences of leaving or because they simply believe that they have no alternative.

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According to Anti-Slavery International, the only British charity exclusively working to eliminate all forms of slavery and slavery-like practices throughout the world, even today a person coming from a situation of poverty and lack of opportunity can recieve an offer of an apparently good job in the UK with the deliberate intent to enslave them. Often, the victim has to take a loan from an agent to pay for the recruitment fees and for the journey if they are coming from abroad. Hey, a new start and an opportunity to live is worth it, right? Under normal circumstances, maybe. But, when the person arrives, the job, the conditions and the opportunities they were promised can be completely different. Their passport may be confiscated and they’re told they need to pay off the debt before they can leave. How this becomes a situation you need to be aware of, and how this relates to even your business compliance might come as a bit of a shock, too. Stay with me and you'll see why...

It's good to know that Anti-Slavery International’s calls for a new comprehensive law led to the passing of the new Modern Slavery Act in 2015. Features of this Act include:

  1. making prosecuting traffickers easier by consolidating existing slavery offences
  2. increasing sentences for slavery offences
  3. making larger UK businesses publically report on how they tackle slavery in their global supply chains

So, remember when i asked you what modern slavery had to do with you, or what it had to do business compliance? There is your answer. Right there, point iii. Every large company has a responsibility to publish a statement about what it is doing to prevent modern slavery in its business and supply chain. Any smaller organisation supplying larger ones is likely to have to do the same in order to maintain its business too. Therefore, as either an employee or an employer excercising best practice, it is the duty of your workplace to understand how to spot and report signs of modern slavery, either in your place of work or existing in your supply chain so that your organisation can be fulfilling a positive role in preventing this practice.

Once you've had this chat with your old pal, have it with your work colleagues and get them clued up too. Sign up to an easy access workplace learning course in modern slavery and let's raise awareness and ensure quality workplace compliance for better professional practice in the UK. It's the way forward. No one needs to live in the past, particularly not this past. It's ugly. Let's all be brighter people with brighter options for colleagues, wherever they are in the world of work or in your own supply chain. In the meantime, here are some things you probably didn't know about modern slavery...

  1. The UK Government estimates there are up to 13,000 people in slavery in Britain today
  2. Only 1% of enslaved people in the UK have the chance of seeing their exploiter brought to justice
  3. In 2015, over 3,000 people, including nearly 1,000 children, were referred to British authorities as potential victims of slavery
  4. Victims of slavery are four times less likely to be acknowledged as victims if they are non-European
  5. Children are often deliberately targeted for their vulnerability
  6. One in four victims of slavery in the UK is a child
  7. 2016 saw the first conviction and sentencing of a British businessman for human trafficking

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