August 13, 2018

Modern Slavery – Hidden in Plain Sight 

Home Office research published at the end of July reveals that modern slavery costs the UK economy an estimated £4 billion annually.  

Consequently, the Government has announced an independent review of its 2015 Modern Slavery Act. This is to ensure that what it describes as “world-first legislation” keeps in step with this evolving crime.

But surely slavery ended with the Abolition of Slave Trade Act way back in 1807? Not so: the reality is that it’s still alive and well in the UK over 200 years later.  

Indeed, in the last couple of weeks, BBC2 devoted a complete episode of its successful “The Prosecutors” series to the impact of child slavery. Estimates of slavery and exploitation in the UK vary significantly, but a figure of 10,000 to 15,000 people at any one time is widely regarded as conservative. 

Exploiting and enslaving men, women and children within the UK is one of the 21st century’s most shocking but profitable crimes. It’s increasingly being adopted by major, international, criminal networks – often targeting the most vulnerable in society.  

But why does modern slavery affect you? 

If you are a business with a £36 million turnover, the 2015 legislation already obliges you to prepare and publish a slavery and human trafficking statement annually.

But one element within the Act is to seek transparency within supply chains and report on the impact, which means many smaller businesses frequently face requests from larger supply chain partners to identify their modern slavery policies and provisions.

The reality is that most won’t (and are not obliged to) have one. Charities, public and voluntary sector organisations often require evidence of modern slavery policies. So, if you are trying to trade within these sectors – expect to be quizzed about modern slavery. 

Indeed, launching the Government’s independent review, Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said:  

“It is clear some companies are leading the way but others are falling behind. I’ve asked for this review to look at if we should strengthen our legislation to ensure businesses are taking robust action to eradicate forced labour in their supply chains.”  

Smaller organisations could therefore face additional measures to try and minimise the risk that UK goods and services are produced through forced labour and slavery.

The Local Government Association describes modern slavery victims as “being hidden in plain sight” within the community. They may well work surprisingly openly in warehouses, construction, car washing, household chores, door to door deliveries, catering or agriculture. 

At any one time, there are over 600 criminal investigations ongoing in the UK. And rather than diminishing, the level of enslavement and exploitation is actually growing.  

The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation was commonplace throughout the 20th Century. Now, however, domestic labour, begging, forced marriage and even organ transplantation is accelerating, while child trafficking and exploitation accounts for an alarming 25% of modern slavery.

How will you respond if you are asked for a modern slavery policy by one of your supply chain partners? What will you say if a tendering document asks for your position? Moorepay can assist with wording for your employee handbook and point you to existing policies you are likely to have in place that can assist. Contact the Policy Team on policy.team@moorepay.co.uk or telephone 0845 073 0249 for assistance. 

Want a round-up of stories like this delivered to your inbox?

About the author

Mike Fitzsimmons

Mike is a Senior HR Consultant within the Moorepay Policy Team. He is responsible for the developing of employment documentation and is an Employment law advisor. With over 30 years of senior management and HR experience, Mike has managed teams of between 30 and 100 employees and is familiar with all the issues that employing people brings. He has also served as a non-executive director on the Boards of several social enterprises and undertook a five year tour of duty as Executive Chair of a £30+ million annual turnover Government agency.