Buyers are 'eyes and ears' of slavery victims

27 September 2018

Law enforcement authorities must be more willing to share information about their efforts to fight labour abuse, according to a government anti-slavery official.

Mark Heath, deputy director of business change at the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), said the biggest enabler of modern slavery was businesses, charities and authorities keeping information to themselves.

He also urged buyers not to hide behind thinking it wasn’t their job to report suspected cases of labour abuse.

Speaking at the Modern Slavery and Ethical Labour in Construction Leadership Symposium, he said: “People get really scared about intelligence, but it’s the lifeblood of what you do. With your intelligence you’re creating a picture of what’s happening in your supply chain.

“But the way perpetrators continue to operate is that we keep information to ourselves. We need to share information.”

As well as businesses and charities, he pointed the finger squarely at enforcement authorities for “missing a trick” on the matter. “Law enforcement needs to realise that there are others in the room,” he said.

“We are not on a different side, policing is not on a different side, NGOs are not on a different side,” he said. “We are doing the same thing in our own way.

“The best information is clear, concise, understandable and corroborated.”

Justine Currell, deputy police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire, added that there needs to be a “recognition that we are sitting on a lot of information which could change our opinion of what is happening”.

Currell, who is also executive director of anti-slavery charity Unseen UK, said: “We need to stop playing silly games. We need to bring it all together and work from the same hymn sheet.”

Heath also appealed to buyers to fulfil their moral obligation of reporting when they suspected signs of labour abuse.

“There is a belief that ‘I don’t have to report it because it’s not really my job,’” he said.

“But you are the eyes and ears for that victim. It’s your moral obligation, your business obligation and you social justice obligation [to report it].

“The protection of the vulnerable is the key message. Don’t hide behind the belief that it’s not.”

Last month, a CIPS survey uncovered that one-fifth of firms had found wage abuse in their supply chains.

The poll found 21% of supply chain managers had seen labour violations in supply chains over the past two years, including late payment (seen by 14% of respondents) and staff not being paid the minimum wage (10%). Some 3% had seen both.

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