©Janie Airey
©Janie Airey

Heroes of modern slavery: Baroness Young of Hornsey

1 September 2017

Baroness Young of Hornsey has been raising awareness of supply chain slavery in Parliament. SM celebrates some of the many – and increasing – heroes of modern slavery

The peer
Baroness Young of Hornsey

Baroness Young of Hornsey “didn’t know what the heck a supply chain was” when she first started focusing on sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. The author, former actress and crossbench peer had long been interested in issues around equality and diversity before her focus turned to the business of fashion and supply chains.

“For me, it grows out of my work around social justice: who gets to be part of ‘the club’ and have power and influence, and who is not only left out but actively oppressed,” she says, on her passion for fighting modern slavery. It also stems from her interest in black history (she was a director at the now defunct Archives and Museum of Black Heritage) and the transatlantic slave trade.

In 2009, she was instrumental in setting up an All-Party Parliamentary Group on ethics and sustainability in fashion (of which she remains co-chair), to engage politicians in a debate “no one had really been paying attention to before”. Young’s campaigning for legislation around supply chains in the garment industry ran closely alongside the creation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which she was also involved in.

Her main focus has been on transparency in supply chains and she continues to fight to strengthen section 54, the piece of the act that requires companies to report. She particularly wants to bring public bodies under the legislation, which so far only requires large commercial organisations to report. “That’s a big thing the government is determined to resist because they think there is enough regulation,” she says. “Well, lots of us don’t think there is enough. Some public bodies have voluntarily made statements and are urging us to get it passed into legislation.”

While her original private members’ bill was withdrawn just before it ran out of time, she has recently tabled a new bill to “make further provision for transparency in supply chains in respect of slavery and human trafficking”. It has just had its first reading.

Young feels the transparency in supply chain requirements are a real opportunity for companies to understand and deal with what’s happening in their supply chains. “Talking to some big companies before the act – and some now – they’d say: ‘How do I know what’s happening in my supply chain several links down?’ You should. It’s a huge reputational risk.”

Her next campaign, ‘Let’s make it work: Alliance for transparency in supply chain reporting’, will be launching later this year. It aims to raise awareness by focusing on two sectors: fashion and football. “We’ve got to make this work,” says Young. “This [section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act] is all we have at the moment to try and hold companies accountable for what goes on in their supply chains.”

Raising consumer awareness is critical, she feels. “What is shocking to me is how separated we are [as consumers] from what is going on. The world’s poor get trapped in these horrendous situations in order that we can have a nice life.

I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of fashion, but the question is: do we want to participate, given what we know?”

Using fashion and football to talk about the risks of modern slavery works on two levels. Firstly, both industries have been exposed to such risks in their supply chain, via child labour being used to stitch the footballs used in Premier League clubs, for example, and cases such as the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. Secondly, both attract high levels of public interest. “I was at a football match the other day: there were about 60,000 people in the stadium,” says Young, “And I thought, what if 10% of these people were alerted to spotting the signs of modern slavery?”

She admits she has, as a consumer, become “a bit of a doom and gloom monger”. “I tell my friends: be careful when you use a nail bar, be careful when you use a pop-up car wash, watch out who is redoing your driveway… But you have to do something, because it is rife.”

Modern slavery, Young points out, is connected to many other socio-economic problems globally, and cannot be viewed in isolation. “Connect the dots. Why do people leave their home countries and put themselves in awful situations? They don’t do it for fun, but because they are desperately poor. It’s part of a much bigger picture.”

That means any companies viewing section 54 as a regulatory burden or not fulfilling their responsibilities are doing more than not complying with legislation.  “If you think this is a waste of time, tell me your alternative,” Young says. “For me, the alternative is leaving things as they are. You have to decide what side you are on. Why would you say that it’s alright for someone in India to have to make the choice between their child going into prostitution or working 15 hours a day in a factory?

“Unless you regard these people as less than human, you are not going to find that acceptable. So then the question is: how do you deal with it?”

The supplier: Shayne Tyler

The prosecutor: Caroline Haughey

The campaigner: Andrew Wallis

The barrister: James Ewins

CIPS Knowledge
Find out more with CIPS Knowledge:
  • best practice insights
  • guidance
  • tools and templates