Elements of The Government’s flagship Modern Slavery Act need strengthening if the wicked crime of slavery is to be eliminated, according to the Co-op, the leading business working to support victims across the UK.
The Co-op, which this week hosted a summit in Manchester for companies and charities that are creating jobs for survivors of modern slavery, believes the legal requirements for large companies to report on their efforts to eliminate trafficking and exploitation from their supply chains must be tightened and extended to public bodies.
In its submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into modern slavery, the Co-op points out the Home Office has no means of knowing exactly which businesses are required to produce a statement.
This inability to identify those businesses that have failed to meet the legal requirement makes it impossible for action to be taken for non-compliance and, as a result, fails to compel businesses to comply. It also makes it very difficult for consumers to take informed decisions on which business they want to trade with or not.
Under the 2015 Act all large businesses are legally bound to produce an annual statement outlining the steps they have taken to ensure that their supply chains are slavery free but public authorities that employ millions of people and produce billions of pound of products and services are exempt.
Paul Gerrard, Director of Campaigns at the Co-op, said: “As it stands the Act is creating an uneven playing field because without sanction or the threat of sanction it is, effectively, easier and cheaper to be non-compliant rather than be compliant.
“Unfortunately, criminals who choose to enslave individuals do not restrict themselves to commercial operations and so public bodies must also be taken into the scope of the act if the Home Office is to achieve what was intended when it was passed.”
The 15 companies and 20 charities that have signed up to the innovative Bright Future programme, which provides employment for those rescued from slavery, were all invited to the summit at the Co-op in Manchester city centre.
The programme, which was devised by the Co-op in conjunction with the charity City Hearts, offers victims a four-week paid work placement leading to a non-competitive interview. If both elements are successful, the candidate will be offered a permanent job within the host business.
Already more than 50 vulnerable survivors are being given a chance to rebuild their lives and it is envisaged that up to 300 will secure placements through the Bright Future programme by 2020.
The latest companies to join Bright Future are Typhoo and safety specialists Arco who join the John Lewis Partnership, Dixons Carphone and The Body Shop, in partnership with Single Resource, along with eight others, including independent Co-op societies, food suppliers and construction company Marshalls Plc.