Modern Slavery: Why it Needs to be Top of Everyone’s Agenda

Discover why businesses should be focussing on Modern Slavery when there are more than 40 million victims worldwide.

Image of a man facing the sunset, breaking the chains around his wrists to signify his escape from modern slavery. Modern Slavery concept

Is Modern Slavery Really an Issue for Businesses?

Criminals make $150 billion (£107.9 billion) from modern slavery every year – it’s one of the world’s most common crimes and it happens right under our noses. Whether it involves forced labour, human trafficking, or wage exploitation – without constant vigilance, British businesses could be profiting from it by accident.

There’s more to fighting modern slavery than having a good-looking policy attached to the bottom of a website. Human trafficking gets more and more media coverage as high-profile incidents expose high-cost smuggling rings across the world, making it all the harder to back up any institution that doesn’t acknowledge the risks of exploitation.

Businesses Don’t Know Enough About Modern Slavery

Naivety to modern slavery, where UK bosses and employees don’t believe modern slavery is an issue, is a large reason why modern slavery can be connected to UK business. 

43% of board or director level employees didn’t know if they had a modern slavery policy in place according to recent reporting. Considering the possible harm to reputation and exposure to a whole raft of crimes that could be linked to modern slavery, taking the topic seriously is critical.

Lacking Modern Slavery checks within a business also suggests a dangerous precedent in all other areas. A company that’s missing the necessary oversight to spot it could easily fail in all other departments, so, if they thoroughly implement a Modern Slavery statement, they might spot many other ways to make themselves more transparent and accountable.

However, there are also many other reasons why being watchful for, and educating yourself about Modern Slavery needs to be a priority for your business.  

There Could be Modern Slavery in Your Supply Chain

Whilst it’s unbelievable to think that there’s still widespread slavery in a modern connected world, it’s far from being stamped out.

Developed countries and the EU profit more from modern slavery and forced labour than Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean and the Middle East combined, making it one of the world’s top three crimes, along with drug trafficking and counterfeiting.

The near unrivalled frequency means there’s a huge chance that a product or service that one relies on, or has relied on, was made possible in some way, big or small, by crimes connected to modern slavery. This means that there can be an unfortunately high chance of crime crossing over into a lengthy supply chain if it goes mostly unchecked.

Rusty Chain Fence with Sunset showing through the chain, representing the link between modern slavery and supply chains

Diligence Checks for Larger Companies

In an effort to suppress international modern slavery, businesses with a certain turnover are required to issue an annual slavery and human trafficking statement, detailing the steps they’ve taken to ensure that no examples of slavery or trafficking have happened in their supply chains or their own business. 

However, smaller businesses or larger ones using a copy and paste modern slavery statement still need to exercise their due diligence and investigate their supply chains.

From wider organisational priorities to smaller stopgap solutions, it’s essential that businesses think about the wider influence of worker exploitation, instead of passing the problem onto their business partners or clients. Labour procurers, international suppliers, outsourcing, investments and each and every component that feeds into a company could profit from modern slavery, indirectly or not.

Modern Slavery is Common in the UK

Even once a business is satisfied that they don’t lean on modern slavery overseas or in a supply chain, the hidden nature of modern slavery means it can be prevalent anywhere – including the UK and within a regular business. There are over 100,000 victims of modern slavery in this country, and the added isolation the coronavirus has brought has made it harder than ever to spot them.

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown a year on year increase of Modern Slavery related arrests ever since the Modern Slavery Act (2015) was signed into law. Since signed into law, arrests for modern slavery actually increased by 565% in the 5 years following.

The dangers of modern slavery are so high that companies in certain industries must have licences that prove they have been inspected and ensured that their employment standards meet legal requirements. The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) has police-style powers to enforce worker’s rights related laws, with a heavy focus on high-risk agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and related processors.

Modern slavery must be a priority because despite the emphasis and legislation there to highlight the perils, around a third of people still don’t think modern slavery could happen in the UK. The ignorance towards is a massive help to criminals who rely on being overlooked to continue to exploit the vulnerable.

Man wearing a chain as a tie. Modern Slavery concept

What can Businesses Do to Stop Modern Slavery? 

1) Speak up

Modern slavery is something every business can cause, so more business leaders need to set an example by making their business transparent. Try to educate your clients about what you’ve done to stop modern slavery, or maybe tell them what else they could do to improve their work practices.

👉 To learn more, check out our full guide on how to spot signs of modern slavery in the workplace.  

2) Triple Check Your Business

You need to check your supply chain, staff, recruitment procurers and customers to make sure they’re not involved in human trafficking. For example, you should regularly check if the larger companies you work with have issued their modern slavery statement, have a GLAA licence (where needed) and themselves use responsible supply chains.

If you find a blank spot in your knowledge about your business, being complacent might mean you overlook a massive hole in your defences.

3) Support Your Staff

Looking after your workers both avoids modern slavery and gives you the best indication if they’re in a difficult situation. Help them if they’re financially excluded and increase awareness of modern slavery related crimes.

Preventing Modern Slavery Through Financial Inclusion

At Suits Me we’ve often noticed the links between financial exclusion – whereby people find themselves locked outside of the mainstream banking system – and the increased risk of worker abuse. We believe that by ensuring everyone has access to secure, modern banking we can help combat modern slavery.

To easily mitigate these risks workers should be paid into their own personal accounts. We don’t perform credit checks or need proof of address for any of our referred account holders, which means Suits Me can provide banking services to the most vulnerable workers who, in many cases, have never had full financial security or don’t usually reside in the UK.  

If you’re hiring workers who come to you without their own banking account, Suits Me can open one, and provide you with their payroll details in minutes. Becoming a Suits Me partner is completely free and you’ll gain a unique log-in to the Suits Me employer portal where you can upload online account applications in bulk via CSV files or open individual ones as and when an employee is in need, and get their account details back in minutes to add to your payroll system. 

Referred workers get their own online banking account and debit card, in their name, with their own account number and sort code. Plus, they’ll gain access to all the banking features required to successfully manage their finances.

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