Today is ‘Anti-Slavery Day’ where the aim is to fight against and raise awareness of the dangers and consequences of slavery, human trafficking and exploitation.
Believe it or not, slavery in the UK and overseas was not eliminated with the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1807. In fact, it’s estimated there are tens of thousands of people in slavery today. They may not be in chains and working under a searing heat any more, but instead they are in what is known as ‘modern slavery.’
What is modern slavery?
A modern-day slave is someone who is forced to do work against their will through coercion or mental or physical threats. They are often in what is known as ‘bonded labour’ or ‘debt bondage’ where they have no choice but to work to pay off a debt to their employer or agency. These people have often been trafficked from a different country with the promise of a good job in the UK. Once here the situation is very different. Their passports are confiscated together with any control over the conditions of their employment or their debt. In short, they are trapped into working and living in poor conditions, with little or no wage and with no hope of ever repaying their debt.
Several women and children are forced into sex work or a life of crime, including growing cannabis or theft. They are dehumanised and living in constant fear of threats and violence to themselves and their families.
What can be done?
There have been several steps taken to try to stamp out slavery in the UK. The Modern Slavery Act was passed in 2015 to make it easier to prosecute traffickers and it increased sentences for slavery offences. It also ensures that victims of slavery will not be prosecuted for crimes they have been forced to commit. There are child trafficking advocates to help protect trafficked children.
One of the major clauses of the Modern Slavery Act, which relates to the food and other industries, is that large UK businesses with an annual turnover of over £36 million have to publicly report how they tackle slavery in their global supply chains and publish a modern slavery statement. Slaves are most commonly trafficked into industries such as agriculture, construction, manufacturing, hospitality and into smaller concerns such as car washes.
Ethical audits ensure employees are treated fairly and with respect
Companies have a moral responsibility to ensure that the products they sell are slave-free. This means throughout the entire supply chain. This is not easy to do if the supply chain is very long. However, major retailers require their suppliers undergo ethical audits to make sure that employees are being treated fairly and with respect.
The ethical audit is carried out against the 9 sections of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) Base Code.
1: Employment is freely chosen
2: Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected
3: Working conditions are safe and hygienic
4: Child labour shall not be used
5: Living wages are paid
6: Working hours are not excessive
7: No discrimination is practiced
8: Regular employment is provided
9: No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed
This is designed to help protect workers from poor and unsafe working conditions, overwork, discrimination, low pay and forced working conditions. It is founded on the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and is an internationally recognised code of labour practice.
Find out more about ethical audits
Verner Wheelock has a team of experienced ethical auditors operating throughout the UK and Ireland. If you would like to find out more about our ethical audits, please click here.
Let’s hope that in future there will be no need for an Anti-Slavery Day.