Heroes of modern slavery: Shayne Tyler

1 September 2017

Shayne Tyler was threatened by traffickers after exposing slavery in his factory. But that hasn’t stopped him fighting this heinous crime. SM celebrates some of the many – and increasing – heroes of modern slavery

The supplier
Shayne Tyler
Found slavery in his organisation

It was back in June 2000 when Shayne Tyler, an operations executive in the food produce industry, became aware of the scourge of modern slavery. The UK factory run by his then employer was featured in an episode of BBC Panorama, which found more than 250 illegal workers (the company was unaware).

The day after the programme aired, and the related media storm kicked off, 58 Chinese workers died in the back of a lorry while being smuggled into the UK. While the case had nothing to do with Tyler’s company, it had a profound impact on him personally, as several Chinese workers were among the 250 illegals.

“It broke my heart that this kind of thing was going on in our country,” he says. “I was mortified that 58 people had died and it hardly hit the headlines. I decided to do more in my business.” Once he started looking deeper, he found evidence of some “horrendous” exploitation. “That day changed my life.”

Since then, Tyler has dedicated himself to making sure the businesses he works for are best in class when it comes to fighting modern slavery. Between 2001 and 2006 alone he found 180 cases of modern slavery and related crimes, such as document forgery. He has long since lost count of the number of crimes he has been involved in exposing, working with the GLAA, local police forces and the Home Office.

He will never forget a case in 2005 where a trafficker found his personal details and threatened him and his family. Tyler had helped free seven people from forced labour, and was told there were 53 more living in a block of flats. After the threatening phone call, he was frightened off. “I had to back away, because of my wife and children,” he recalls. “You felt exposed and alone back then.”

Things are different now, he feels, thanks to increased awareness and police engagement. But he believes given that those running modern slavery cartels are hardened criminals, it is fundamentally wrong to ask managers to investigate potential cases of slavery. His advice: “Report, report, report. If you do nothing, the slavery will continue, and if you do the wrong thing, I guarantee that slave will disappear. Reporting is your only option. Why would you put yourself at risk?” Some modern slavery training courses are naive, he believes, in encouraging managers to investigate things themselves.

Overall, Tyler thinks the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has been useful in raising awareness of ethical employment practices (“it was a lonely place to be 10-15 years ago”). But he is concerned legislation can have unintended consequences, such as driving things further underground. For example, businesses reporting what they are doing may unintentionally tell exploiters too much, helping them to change their practices. “They will adapt,” he warns. “It used to be they would want cash payment [so it was easier to spot], now they’ve moved to bank accounts, which they control. We introduced systems to mitigate against that; they just get two bank cards.”

He worries other well-intended and ethical legislation, such as raising the national minimum wage, is also having an unintended impact. With fewer people willing to work in factories and fields when they could earn the same in a coffee shop, for example, staff shortages are rife. “That creates demand, which creates desperation, which creates opportunity for increased risk.” Shortages linked to Brexit will only make things worse.

Similarly, increased regulation means many farmers are no longer building accommodation for workers, leading to a rise in third-party landlords and transportation, therefore more risk. Tyler cites a recent case in Nottinghamshire where exploitation was occurring via the accommodation. “Exploitation has moved to an unregulated area,” he explains.

“We need to be careful about how we label businesses,” he says. “Modern slavery is hidden, so we need to judge businesses by how they react once they find it and what they do, [rather than just their slavery statements]. You have to turn over a lot of stones to find one pebble.” Business can only hope more suppliers will follow Tyler’s lead in doing so.

The good businesses

John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, H&M – the same names keep coming up as businesses working hard against modern slavery. And a lot are in retail – driven by bad publicity and threats to their supply chain.

“Marks & Spencer is doing a ton of stuff around educating the workforce in the factory, making structural changes to their supply chain. They are one of the leaders on transparency,” says David Capperauld, of SP Sourcing and Child Labor Free UK, who advises on supply chains and drives child labour prevention projects. After one of John Lewis’ mattress suppliers, Kozee Sleep, was found and convicted of trafficking people within the UK, the company reviewed and substantially changed how it works with suppliers. Primark is mentioned, too. “They are much more demanding in what they expect of their suppliers in how they adhere to their business practices – it is hard to become a supplier.”

ASOS, Burberry and SABMiller are good statements to look at, says Capperauld, but adds that it is the follow-through that matters now. “Many are focused on protecting their legal position rather than making a difference. People must audit.” Lists like the Gartner Supply Chain Top 25 and KnowtheChain check appropriate credentials so being included is a recommendation. And then there is the occasional business that stands out by what it is doing – like the Co-op, which has offered training for 30 victims and an option to work. The list of good businesses is growing.

The prosecutor: Caroline Haughey

The campaigner: Andrew Wallis

The peer: Baroness Young of Hornsey

The barrister: James Ewins

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