UK industry tackles modern slavery

22nd of May 2024 Article by Lynn Webster
UK industry tackles modern slavery

From the UK, Lynn Webster on a renewed focus on the impact and evidence of modern slavery.

There has been a recharged focus of the impact and evidence of modern slavery coming through the cleaning industry. It is driven through the launch of industry led initiatives; as headlined at a recent trade show and the publication of studies of its impact on procurement.

With an estimated 100,000  in the UK ‘living’, in modern slavery and over 17,000 potential victims of human trafficking or modern slavery referred to the Home Office in 2023 it is on the increase and should not, and cannot be ignored.

The cleaning industry is highly susceptible to this where it manifests easily into FM, security construction and social care. There are a number of indicators which may highlight slavery and labour exploitation both within companies and across their supply chains. Consider...

Appearance: wearing the same clothes every day, dressed inadequately for work ie, without an outdoor coat or suitable footwear; displaying unexplained injuries resulting from assault.

Finances: having little or no money, bank cards or documents; accruing debts.

Behaviours: allowing others to always speak on their behalf; instructions from controlling others; demonstrate limited or no interaction with colleagues or reveal no details of home life; distrust of anyone in authority.

Restricted freedom or engagement: unable to communicate freely; show limited contact with others; rely on specific support with transport to work or limited access to medical care

Accommodation: reluctant to share details of their home address or don’t know it; may have poor or substandard housing; living in a closed group with no choice to leave.

It is in every employer’s interests to avoid becoming embroiled in the stress and distress of individual cases - being able to reassure customers and staff that they are free from such exploitation. It is clearly important to have policies and processes aligned to prepare, prevent, protect and pursue a possible situation.

Specific awareness must be made for example when employing agency or sub-contracted staff with possible use of different staff attending each day.

Have a defined system with suppliers, not only reviewing sources of your supplies, for example, uniform but where are they made?

Help is at hand – SOS, Stamp Out Slavery (stampoutslavery.org) has been launched to support cleaning companies in their approach, minimise the risks of modern slavery/human trafficking occurring in their labour supply chains. It helps in providing  external review, validation of human resources practices, procedures and records - and those of sub-contractors - to raise the awareness of exploitation, how to report potential incidences and in turn offer financial support to charities that work with victims.

Twenty per cent of the fee income from SOS is donated to Unseen (unseenuk.org), a charity that supports survivors of slavery, equips organisations and frontline staff with the knowledge to tackle exploitation, and influences legislation to create longterm change.

The Modern Slavery Helpline is open 24/7, 365 days a year, free and confidential for users  on 08000 121 700.

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