Paul Gerrard urged businesses to "step up" and employ slavery victims © Leo Wilkinson
Paul Gerrard urged businesses to "step up" and employ slavery victims © Leo Wilkinson

All firms should employ former slavery victims, says Co-op

18 October 2017

UK businesses need to do more than the bare minimum of the Modern Slavery Act and actively employ slavery victims to give them back ownership of their lives, according to the Co-operative Group.

Speaking at the CIPS Annual Conference 2017 yesterday, Paul Gerrard, group policy and campaigns director at the Co-op, said businesses had the power to give victims control and dignity after being “rescued”.

“All the research will tell you is that the one thing that stops victims being re-trafficked isn’t being rescued, it’s getting a job, because a job allows them to take control of their livelihoods,” he said.

“Slavery is about a lack of control—work and paid employment gives them the opportunity to regain that.”

Previous figures from the Home Office, released in 2014, estimate that there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2013. However the National Crime Agency warned in August that the scale was “far larger than anyone had previously thought”.

Gerrard said in a bid to tackle what prime minister Theresa May had described as the great human rights issue of our time, the Co-op launched a scheme to help integrate victims of UK’s modern slave trade back into communities by providing jobs for victims.

The scheme, known as the Bright Future programme, provides 30 survivors of modern slavery with a four-week paid work placement followed by a non-competitive interview. 

Gerrard said companies who were content with just doing the bare minimum under the Modern Slavery Act had set a “very low bar” for themselves and urged them to “step up”.

“The Co-op can’t solve this, we need other businesses to step up too,” he said.

“Not everyone wants to work for a convenience store or in a depot—they might want to work in a hotel or they might want to teach—I’ve met people who have been enslaved that have accountancy degrees in their home country.”

UK’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act requires all companies with a UK footprint and a turnover of more than £36m to publish an annual statement outlining what it is doing to identify and address modern slavery in its supply chain.

“Only 50% have complied with the law of the land so far,” Gerrard said.

Earlier this week, peers in the House of Lords called for modern slavery reporting rules to be toughened up, as they put forward concerns that the level of compliance with the legislation was not up to scratch, reported People Management.

Labour peer Baroness Kennedy of Cradley said that while many companies had complied with the requirement to provide a statement, there were still “thousands” that hadn’t. 

She added that while some companies had provided pages of information about what they were doing, others had only provided a few sentences.

To mark this year’s Anti-Slavery Day, Priti Patel, international development secretary, announced that UK would be leading the way in tackling modern slavery on behalf of exploited people around the world.

“Anti-Slavery Day provides a wake-up call to anyone who thought slavery had been consigned to the history books,” she said. 

“We have doubled our spending on trying to wipe out modern slavery. It is absolutely right that in both the UK and beyond, we are stepping up our efforts—we will not accept a world where human being are bought and sold.”

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