Modern slavery is an umbrella term which encompasses a range of exploitative practices, including forced labour, human trafficking, debt bondage, sexual exploitation and forced marriage.
The Global Slavery Index estimated in 2016 that there were 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK and by 2020 the UK government’s National Referral Mechanism identified a much larger figure of over 10,000 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.
Businesses can unknowingly contribute to modern slavery as a result of their supply chains, which are often difficult to trace meaning that goods or services used by businesses may have been produced using forced labour.
Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, businesses with an annual turnover of £36 million or more are required to publish a modern slavery and human trafficking statement to show the steps they’re taking to prevent modern slavery in their supply chains.
While smaller businesses don’t have the same legal requirement or the same level of resources as larger businesses, we can all be contributing unknowingly to the issue and there are a number of steps we can take to combat it.
One major step is educating everyone in the business about the signs of modern slavery to look out for and how to report it. This can be done through training sessions, workshops, or online resources. A good place to start is the UK government’s a modern slavery training: resources page.
A good way of assessing your supply chain to identify areas where modern slavery may be present is by conducting a risk assessment. The UK government’s Modern Slavery risk assessment tool is available for any businesses to use, even if they don’t supply the public sector.
Publish a modern slavery statement
Developing a statement setting out your business’s commitment to ethical practices and prohibiting the use of forced labour in its supply chains. This can be communicated to suppliers and customers to show that your business takes modern slavery seriously. Businesses can pledge to undertake anti-slavery actions, such as providing training for staff, and set key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure performance against these actions. Cumbria Chamber’s modern slavery and human trafficking statement can be viewed here and you’ll find plenty of other examples online.
Businesses can work together with other businesses, NGOs, and government agencies to combat modern slavery. This can include sharing information and best practices, collaborating on training programs, and participating in events and networks.
Monitor supply chains
If we all monitor our supply chains and report concerns or suspicions of modern slavery it all adds up to a lot of scrutiny. Unseen, a charity which supports victims of modern slavery, list signs to watch out for on its website. Unseen also runs the modern slavery & exploitation helpline which can be used to report instances of exploitation.
By taking these practical steps and using the resources listed here, as businesses we can all help tackle modern slavery and contribute to a more ethical and sustainable business environment.