The Modern Slavery Act raised awareness of the presence of forced labour and human trafficking taking place in countries across the world, and especially here in the UK. The Act empowered enforcement agencies to better identify victims and punish the perpetrators, and importantly compel businesses to disclose what actions they are taking to tackle the issue (a key aspect BRC advocated for). However, there are concerns that victims of modern slavery are not receiving sufficient support to help their recovery and that the absence of a public list of companies required to make a disclosure weakens business engagement.

Through our Better Retail Better World campaign, many retailers have pledged to embed a policy that no worker should pay for a job, to provide a safeguard against modern slavery. This is to tackle situations where low-wage workers across the world borrow large sums of money to cover recruitment fees, putting them at risk of exploitation, including debt bondage. But we call on Government to improve modern slavery legislation through publishing a list of all companies required to report and extend the requirement to public procurement bodies. 

SUPPORTING VICTIMS OF MODERN SLAVERY

People who escape from a situation of modern slavery are extremely vulnerable as they often have no money, no identification and no safe place to live. They can currently access 45 days of supportive care and a safe place to stay provided by the Government, but after just this month and a half they lose all official support. Many of these people end up homeless and even face exploitation all over again.

If victims of modern slavery had access to longer-term support it would provide a stronger mechanism to help their recovery, find long-term accommodation and access training and counselling to regain confidence, independence and skills, and ultimately rebuild their lives.

Already some leading retailers are supporting survivors by offering work placements and even jobs, but just 45 days Government support hinders the prospects of so many other victims.

That’s why the British Retail Consortium is supporting Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery Victim Support Bill and Free for Good campaign, which calls on Government to implement 12 months of support for survivors, to prevent survivors falling back into exploitation. You can help too by contacting your local MP. Supporting tools can be found at Global Citizen and Free for Good.

STRENGTHENING MODERN SLAVERY LEGISLATION

Government, civil society organisations, investors and the public at large can only hold companies to account if they know which companies are failing to comply with the law. However, there is currently no list of companies required to report under the Modern Slavery Act legislation, and no means of establishing who is reporting and who is not.

Public sector procurement and supply chains face the same risks of modern slavery and labour exploitation as businesses. We would like to see the Government subjecting its own public procurement systems – which have huge purchasing power over businesses – to the same requirements as those applying to the private sector.

Applying the Transparency in Supply Chains clause requirement of the Modern Slavery Act to public bodies procuring goods and services would put the onus on them to undertake due diligence on their supply chains. We believe this would be supported by many public bodies and note that some have already taken steps in this direction.

The British Retail Consortium are therefore strong supporters of Baroness Young’s Modern Slavery Transparency in Supply Chains Bill to strengthen business engagement on modern slavery.

Implementing these measures will strengthen the UK’s leadership on this issue, drive greater efforts to tackle modern slavery, and safeguard victims of this horrific crime.

By Peter Andrews, Head of Sustainability, British Retail Consortium