Modern Slavery in the UK – whose problem is it?

Posted on 2nd December 2020
Example of modern slavery

Addressing the growing hidden issue of Modern Slavery

For many people across the UK, today is the day businesses reopen their doors, consumers head out to grab a cheap bargain and retailers try to make up for lost lockdown profits by staying open for 24 hours a day. But did you know, today is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It is 250 years since the transatlantic slave trade was abolished, yet the UK government estimates that there are tens of thousands of people in the UK today in slavery, with over 5000 modern slavery offences recorded in 2019.

What is Modern Slavery in 2020?

Modern Slavery takes many forms, but increasing cases of human trafficking, labour exploitation and debt bondage are appearing in the UK workplace. Modern slavery exists everywhere – in our communities and our local businesses and as well as trafficking also includes sexual exploitation, domestic slavery and forced labour.

According to antislavery.org, Human Trafficking exists because vulnerable people are often willing to take big risks in order to provide for their families and traffickers exploit this human desire, often offering victims a seemingly great job in the UK. When they arrive here, the situation is completely different – their passport might be taken away, they could be told they have to pay off their debt to their traffickers before they can leave and they’re exposed to violence and threats. They are trapped here with no possessions, no means to return and become totally reliant on their traffickers.

Vulnerable British people are also targeted – especially individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds (including children) – to be groomed into drug criminal gangs in so-called ’county lines’ trafficking.

Where does Modern Slavery occur?

Modern Slavery can happen anywhere, in any industry including (but not limited to) farms, in the construction industry, in shops, hospitality, the beauty industry, car washes or during the manufacturing process in factories. It is often driven by consumer desire for cheap products and services with very little thought given to the people it could be harming.

Complicated and convoluted labour supply chains can often allow forced labour to thrive. Some companies with large market presence in the UK may indirectly rely on people working in slavery to produce the goods they sell, or have supply chains that can encourage trafficking. Many companies use sub-contracting and supply chains managed by external staff can often mask or hide company involvement in slavery – whether intentional or not.

Clearly, Modern Slavery is a problem that everyone needs to be made aware of so that staff within UK organisations can work together to diminish the tolerance of slavery and in time, eradicate it all together.

Spotting the signs of Modern Slavery

You will probably come across people who are in slavery on a regular basis and they may appear ordinary, just like you and me. But, take a closer look and you might spot some of the common warning signs – red flags – that indicate that slavery could be occurring.

Working Conditions

Victims may have no contract, be unable to choose when or where they work, not have any time off or be forced to work long hours over long periods. They could also be reluctant to share personal information with colleagues.

Living Arrangements

Victims may not know their home or work address, live in poor, sub-standard or unsuitable accommodation, have no choice about where they live or who they live with or live in excessively large groups in the same place.

Restricted Freedoms

Victims may not have possession of their passport or identity documents, they could appear reluctant to seek medical care when needed and depend on their employer or other person for work, travel and accommodation without any freedom of choice.

Physical Appearance

Victims may suffer injuries that could be a result of assault or control measures, they may wear the same clothes every day, not be dressed adequately for work or be without protective or warm clothing. They could also have unexplained injuries.

Finances

Victims may receive little or no payment for their work, have no access to their own money, be charged for services they don’t want or need or be disciplined through punishment or fines.

If you suspect that someone is in slavery, do not confront them or try to fix it yourself as this could lead to increased harm for them. Instead, inform relevant authorities or organisations such as the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or if necessary call the Police.

Educating your workforce to help prevent Modern Slavery

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires all organisations with a turnover of over 37 million to produce an annual statement on how they are combatting Modern Slavery. However, all organisations have a responsibility to make their staff aware of this escalating problem and a growing number are now requesting evidence of an ethical supply chain, free from Modern Slavery, where all individuals are treated fairly and justly and their Human Rights are supported. By recognising and talking about this issue, we can raise awareness amongst our friends, employees and co-workers.

Staff training, such as that provided in our Modern Slavery Awareness E-Learning Course is essential to help teach all staff about this issue, thus helping eradicate the issue of Modern Slavery in workforces across the UK.

If you would like more information about how we can support your staff training and help raise your employees awareness of Modern Slavery, please visit our website www.real-sense.com – the Modern Slavery course forms part of our Corporate Governance suite of courses which includes also LGBTQ Awareness, Equality and Diversity and many more.

Kate Lindop

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