Modern slavery - keep out of jail!

21st of May 2019
Modern slavery - keep out of jail!

The disturbing issue of modern slavery is relevant to the cleaning sector, reports Lynn Webster in the UK.

One presentation at The Cleaning Show recently featured the disturbing topic of modern slavery. We benefitted from the expertise from Ben Douglas-Jones QC and a team of his barrister colleagues who spoke about its potential impact in the cleaning and facilities sector.

Modern slavery can be defined as the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation. It is this angle of exploitation that clearly resonated with the audience.

Slavery may be historically portrayed with images of people in distant countries chained up, being beaten and forced to work, however the issue of modern slavery is much closer to home. Although the chains of modern slaves may not be physical, they are still there, financially and emotionally.

An estimate of the scale of modern slavery in the UK by the Home Office in 2014 suggested that there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2013. This remains on the increase and is likely to continue to do so over the next few years. In 2017, 5,143 potential victims were referred to the NRM (National Referral Mechanism) a 35 per cent increase from 2016.

These comprised 2,454 females (47 per cent) and 2,686 males (52 per cent), with three (less than one per cent) recorded as transgender. The majority of potential victims (3,022; 59 per cent) reported that they were exploited as an adult.

Examples of forced labour and domestic servitude are highlighted as examples of modern slavery so it is imperative that the cleaning industry and facilities sector as a whole take responsibility for safeguarding employees against this injustice. Whilst the best companies are compliant there are unscrupulous firms that are not. Everyone has the right to work in secure and safe environments; we should be certain cleaning staff are who they say they, and have the right to legally work in the UK.

However robust the processes are in place there is always the potential for rogue operational managers who could be exploiting individuals.

It is not only applicable to employees but sits clearly in the whole supply chain of goods and services. If slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour comes to light in a company’s supply chain then they ought to have known and could face both civil and criminal charges with serious custodial consequences. It is also important to ensure each stage of the supply chain is slavery free; consider which company is supplying which product, and to locate the county of origin for each product so areas of risk can be identified.

Customers and clients are becoming more aware of human rights abuse and slavery in the supply chain. Failure to act responsibly in the supply chain can cause brand value destruction, litigation and, with recent legislation, fines and custodial sentences. Understanding the current status of the slavery-free movement and how to manage a slavery-free supply chain is essential in securing an ethical supply chain and retaining brand loyalty.

It makes sense to have a policy. Be prepared with your ‘Keep out of Jail’ card ready.


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