Modern slavery awareness 'worryingly low' in financial sector

15 June 2020

Two fifths (39%) of senior staff in financial services do not believe modern slavery occurs in the UK, according to a study.

The survey of UK financial sector employees found “worryingly low levels of awareness of the risks relating to modern slavery”.

Only two fifths of respondents (39%) thought their organisation had a policy to manage modern slavery risks. A third (33%) were unsure whether there was one, and just over a quarter (29%) believed their company did not have one.

This is despite a record 10,627 potential victims supported by the National Referral Mechanism in 2019.

The research prompted independent anti-slavery commissioner Dame Sara Thornton to call on the sector to play a more proactive role in the fight against modern slavery.

Firms with a turnover of more than £36m are required under the Modern Slavery Act to report actions they have taken to eradicate modern slavery from supply chains.

However, more than three quarters (77%) of those polled said their organisation could do more to address the risks of modern slavery and human trafficking in the financial services industry.

The study is part of a nine-month research programme, commissioned by Thornton and jointly led by financial crime consultancy Themis and charity TRIBE Freedom Foundation.

The research aims to improve understanding of how the sector can do more to mitigate the risks of modern slavery and human trafficking it its supply chains, operations and investments.

According to the commissioner’s office, forced labour generates an estimated $150bn per year for organised criminal gangs, with some of profits flowing through UK financial institutions.

The research found some organisations saw modern slavery policies as a box-ticking exercise with less importance than other risk areas such as fraud and cyber crime. Anti-slavery policies and practices were inadequate and inconsistent across the sector, it found.

Thornton said: “Leadership needs to come from the top, and financial services must drive change across their sector, working with clients and investors to prevent this crime from taking place.”

The poll is part of a research programme, A Call for Action for the Financial Sector, which has been consulting through research, surveys, virtual roundtables and focus groups, with more than 5,000 financial sector organisations and employees during spring 2020. Findings will be presented to the commissioner in late summer 2020.

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