The UK abolished slavery in 1833, but it will come as a shock to many to know that official estimates suggest there are between 10,000 and 13,000 cases of what is known as modern day slavery in the UK today, a figure some believe is the tip of the iceberg.
In 2017-18, the Crown Prosecution Service initiated 284 prosecutions in modern slavery cases, of which 185 resulted in convictions. During the period July-September 2018, 1,750 potential victims were submitted to the National Referral Mechanism, a 6% increase on the previous quarter. The most common cause for referral was labour exploitation.
The waste industry knows it has a problem in this area. There are criminal sanctions for failing to report incidences or having inadequate safeguards – because it could happen anywhere.
Most companies carry statements about the issue on their websites and in their annual reports. But, in many cases, the statements are merely an expression of the obvious with no indication of precisely how they seek to prevent slavery occurring in their company – or among their sub-contractors – and report and eradicate it if it is discovered.
Management cannot have eyes everywhere, so tackling slavery depends in large measure on employees’ awareness of the common warning signs, their knowledge of how to report them and their confidence that reporting will lead not to retribution but to action.
Failing to do enough to root out modern slavery in the industry is simply unacceptable to shareholders and the public. It does incalculable harm to vulnerable people, and exposes firms to enormous reputational risk.
The industry needs to take active steps now to ensure it does not experience the tidal wave of public disgust and disbelief that hit the international aid sector, for example, in the wake of the Oxfam scandal in Haiti.
But how to do this? The most effective method is to enable employees to speak up and alert management so that action can be taken. But without trust in procedures and systems, a company risks falling at the first fence.
At Addveritas, we specialise in providing solutions to enable organisations to ‘surface’ information about wrongdoing of all kinds that their workforce possesses. They must regard such reports and those who make them as assets, not liabilities.
Bringing to bear techniques derived from military source-handling and intelligence operations – coupled with expertise in culture, conduct and ethics – our founding partners have built systems across a range of sectors.
If your business has a policy against modern slavery but you do not know whether you also have a problem, then Addveritas offers a health-check of what you currently possess to establish the protection it actually provides. Where nothing exists, we can build it.
Our assessment will ensure you comply with the latest requirements because we are leading the revision of both the UK’s BSI standard and a new international standard via ISO.
There are ways to ensure that your company is able to do something positive to root out modern day slavery, but they all involve improving the understanding, and harnessing the co-operation of, your people. This sounds simple but is extremely hard to achieve and, without expert help, any initial blunders are likely to result in an erosion of trust.
The waste industry will be judged harshly by the public if, like international aid, it fails to act.
So now is the time to enlist the help of your employees to protect your business; to boost your employee engagement and to live by your values; to safeguard your reputation and your share price; and, most of all, to know something is being done to stamp out this vile practice.
Sir Gerald Howarth is Chairman at Addveritas and also former defence minister and former MP for Aldershot
Common Warning Signs
- Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse, appear malnourished, unkempt or withdrawn.
- They may be isolated, rarely allowed to travel alone.
- They may be living in dirty or overcrowded accommodation.
- They may have no identification documents and few belongings.
- They may be reluctant to seek help, avoiding eye contact and remaining wary of talking to authorities for fear of deportation or of violence from their captors.
The modern slavery helpline is on 0800 0121 700
Source: Guardian Online