'Pile it high, sell it cheap' to blame for slavery

23 January 2019

The modern slavery lead for the National Police Chiefs Council has blamed a “pile it high and sell it cheap” economic approach for the phenomenon.

Shaun Sawyer, chief constable for Devon and Cornwall Police, said a “generational transformation” was required to eradicate modern slavery and it would require more than just legislation.

Giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, he asked: “How do we expect 200 years of slavery, that is not resolved, to be subject to a 20-month transformation?

“This is a generational transformation. It is not just about law enforcement and the Crown; it is a societal approach to buy [sic] it high, sell it cheap.”

Sawyer said modern slavery was driven by the “economic contract of the United Kingdom”.

“I am not a socialist, I am not a capitalist, but the drivers for modern slavery are economic drivers, societal drivers,” he said.

Sawyer said while the police would “keep dragging the bodies out of the river”, a transformation of the UK’s approach to modern slavery required transparency in supply chains.

“Look at business, look at consumer choices, and then you will get a transformation,” he said.

Mark Burns-Williamson, police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire, told MPs wider education was needed to inform the public where human slavery could take place.

“Car washes and nail bars are the ones that have been identified, but it is also increasingly about potential workplace supply chains, where businesses need to be aware and doing whatever they can.”

Burns-Williamson said while there had been good examples of businesses providing slavery statements, in line with the Modern Slavery Act, legislation and guidance “could go further”.

MP Douglas Ross (Conservative) criticised a National Crime Agency (NCA) exhibition for giving the impression that modern slavery was rife in farming.

“I was in farming before I was elected, and [the exhibition] was basically saying, or the interpretation could be made, that everyone who works on a farm nowadays could potentially be there because of human trafficking, and that is not the case.”

Ross said there was a balance to be struck between balancing raising awareness of the industries that are more likely to have human traffickers without causing recruitment problems for industries.

Rob Jones, NCA lead on modern slavery and human trafficking, said: “No one industry should be shamed because of this.”

However he added: “We know forced labour is an issue and it does manifest itself in farming, as it does in fisheries and many other industries. It is right to call it out but it needs to be a balanced narrative.”

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