Modern Slavery: Small business falling victim to Britain’s slave gangs

I recently watched Panorama, The Hunt for Britain’s Slave Gangs, what an eye opener! (it was actually broadcast on 5th September, my habit of watching these things on iPlayer puts me a bit behind the times). 

I must admit before watching this, I thought it wasn’t something that affected me or my clients.  My clients only asked about it when they were in the supply chains of big companies and I had the view that it was an issue for those outside the UK or maybe a few unscrupulous employers (the type that wouldn’t pay for compliance support).  

Panorama really opened my eyes, it made me realise this is an issue that can affect small business and businesses who want to do things right.  

One of the businesses shown was a legitimate business, employing people in non-skilled farming work. Whilst most of their employees were directly recruited, for peak periods they took on people through a recruitment agency.  That agency, again a legitimate business, had inadvertently employed a gang member. The gang member was then able to employ multiple people through that agency. Having a gang member on the inside enabled the slave gang to avoid normal processes that would pick up concerns, such as multiple people using the same address.  

This farming business, despite putting in place practices to ensure they were not using slaves fell victim to the slaves.  The recruitment business, it appeared did not consider themselves at risk and have since put in place procedures to avoid the same thing happening again.  It was the story of these two businesses in particular that made me think about the role small business have to play in the problem of modern slavery.  

The UK government estimates there are tens of thousands of victims currently in the UK, the majority are EU nationals.  In 2016, 84% of victims were male. These are males being forced to work for little or no money, often at the hands of organised gangs.  

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires big businesses to publicly report on what they are doing to tackle slavery in their global supply chains. 

Small business can and should voluntarily ensure they are not inadvertently employing slaves, particularly in high risk industries where low or unskilled labour is relied upon.

Your business can audit it’s own suppliers (including recruitment and temporary worker agencies) to ensure they have practices in place to tackle modern slavery.  Even if you are not required by law, publish a statement and commitment to reducing the risks of slavery and human trafficking in your business. This will not only reduce your risks of falling victim to slave gangs but also help you stand out as a company taking your social responsibility seriously.  

If you’re in a high risk area (employing low or unskilled labour)  train staff to spot the signs of modern slavery.  

What are the signs:

  • dropped off and collected from work everyday in the same way, possibly at unusual times   
  • appear frightened, reluctant to talk
  • wearing the same or inappropriate clothing
  • untreated injuries 
  • someone speaking for them
  • not sure of their own address 

Modern slavery is closer and much more wide spread than you think. We all have a role to play to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking.  

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