As we mark World Day Against Trafficking in Persons it is good to reflect on how the Good Business Charter feeds into the narrative on eradicating modern slavery, both in the UK and globally. There are signs to look out for when it comes to identifying someone in slavery, the main ones being that a person:
- appears to be under the control of someone else and reluctant to interact with others
- has few personal belongings, wears the same clothes every day or wears unsuitable clothes for work
- is not able to move around freely, and may not have access to personal identification
- is reluctant to talk to strangers or officials including police officers or health workers
- appears frightened or withdrawn, or shows signs of physical or psychological abuse
- is dropped off and collected for work always in the same way, especially at unusual times.
Yet being aware of these signs is not enough. Organisations would do well to critically assess their answers to the following key questions:
- Would our systems and processes identify those in modern slavery given the needs we know to look out for?
- How does our culture as an organisation help us identify those in modern slavery (or indeed other vulnerable people such as homeless people or victims of domestic abuse)?
If you are GBC accredited you could be complacent and believe you have everything covered when it comes to modern slavery. After all, you are committed to employee wellbeing, representation and EDI, not to mention ethical sourcing. Yet there is value in pausing and ensuring our systems are fit for purpose.
A company may offer a variety of ways to care for wellbeing – physical, mental, emotional etc. Different methods attract different people, but if you had a modern slave in your workplace, would they be able to access something? Think particularly of those who don’t have easy access to the Intranet, or perhaps struggle with English. Don’t just assume they don’t want to access support, they might not be aware it exists.
Forums and other types of employee groups enable employees to have a voice but they will only be truly representative if there is a high percentage of people engaging with them. They provide a great opportunity to remind people to look out for their colleagues, especially for the signs such as fear, few personal belongings, same clothes everyday, not able to move around freely. Identify those not sharing their voice and think creatively of ways to encourage them to do so – or ask what the barriers might be to joining a forum.
When it comes to EDI there is a nervousness of saying the wrong thing and offending someone – and that can lead us to accept that someone is withdrawn and not ask questions – or raise the alarm. A culture of genuinely caring about people as individuals is extremely important and helps give people courage to push past awkwardness. Perhaps they are just not talkative, but there may be something more serious under the surface.
In a large organisation we can often think of ethical sourcing in terms of global supply chains and prisoners or children working somewhere down that chain. Yet, in the UK, agency staff is a particular risk area for modern slavery. Are we asking the right questions when it comes to recruiting agency staff (such as ensuring their passport hasn’t been withheld) and ensuring agency staff are cared for and have a voice, with access to the same support as other employees?
The stories of those who have fled modern slavery are harrowing. It is everyone’s responsibility to be alert to the signs and report concerns.
Our supply chain overseas
Ethical sourcing gets to the heart of many issues of modern slavery, both at home and abroad. The complexity in identifying and eradicating modern slavery in your supply chain is a huge challenge and will require collaborative approaches. We are grateful to partner with the Ethical Trading Initiative who offer expert advice in this area. The stark reality is that we cannot by 100% sure our supply chain does not rely on slavery and we must do all we can to minimise the risk of it occurring.
GBC accredited organisations are constantly seeking to improve their procurement processes to go deeper in these areas and think deeply about where everything they use comes from. They are poised to act quickly if they learn of human rights abuses in their supply chain and remain firmly committed to stamping that out. This is the positive approach required to counteract the concerning deterioration in national responses as reported by the UN.
Our responsibility as consumers
What can consumers do to tackle this issue? Choosing to purchase ethical products and ask searching questions of suppliers will help keep the pressure on companies to prioritise their sourcing more. Favouring certified organisations will help. Yet in an ongoing challenging economy, cost will so often dictate what people buy – and speed too of obtaining the item. Businesses have an important responsibility, therefore, to do their due diligence so we can come to a point where items produced through slave labour are simply not available to purchase. That would be a massive step in the fight against modern slavery.
No one should be living and working in such horrific conditions, under such abuse and lack of respect for human dignity and rights.
If you suspect someone is in modern slavery, you can call the UK modern slavery and exploitation helpline, run by charity Unseen, on 08000 121 700