“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know!”
This powerful quote was said by English politician, William Wilberforce, who spearheaded the movement to stop the slave trade. His tireless campaigning led to The Slavery Abolition Act (1833), which ended slavery across most of the British Empire. Viewing slavery as an embarrassment from Britain’s colonial past is commonplace, but modern slavery is in fact one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. With more people enslaved today than at any time in history, and with organised crime groups putting slaves to work in industries across the UK, the horrors of slavery are still very real. The introduction of the Modern Slavery Act (2015) has made strides towards tackling modern day slavery, which includes human trafficking, forced labour, child slavery, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and debt bondage, but there is still much to be done.
Roger Bannister, Chief Executive of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), a Non-Departmental Public Body that works in partnership to protect vulnerable and exploited workers, highlights the awful conditions of many enforced labourers:
“Unfortunately, slavery and labour exploitation continue to this day in the UK, especially in sectors such as horticulture which heavily rely on licensed gangmasters to supply labour.” “At some locations there is no pay day, with wages deducted for transport and accommodation. There are also horror stories about workers being repeatedly abused and attacked by their supervisors, simply for doing their job.”
Every town and city in the UK is affected and between April and June 2018, the National Crime Agency (NCA) reported 1658 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, a 2 per cent increase on the previous quarter. Many businesses remain unaware of modern enslavement or choose to turn a blind eye to what’s going on, but the Modern Slavery Act is forcing change. The Act requires commercial organisations that do business in the UK and have a global turnover of at least £36 million to publish a statement on slavery and human trafficking. As the statement has to be thorough and cover a number of elements such as policies on slavery and human trafficking, due diligence processes in relation to slavery, and making training on slavery and human trafficking available to staff, organisations simply cannot provide some throwaway words for their website. With modern day slavery an escalating issue, specialist organisations are forming to support businesses in their efforts to identify, investigate and eradicate slavery. One such organisation is Libre Solutions Limited. Founded by ex-police officer, Gary Spratt and former border force immigration officer Phil Hunt, Libre Solutions, a “not for profit company” was established to help businesses identify labour abuse and modern day slavery. Using their 30+ years’ experience gathering, processing and disseminating sensitive intelligence together with their first-hand knowledge of investigating modern day slavery and human trafficking related crimes, Gary and Phil, together with their three senior consultants, work with businesses to help combat slavery.
Gary Spratt, Trustee from Libre Solutions explains:
“We work with partners and businesses, identifying supply chain vulnerabilities that organised criminals exploit to extract money and abuse vulnerable workers.” “Many businesses only become aware that they’re employing modern slaves once it is too late, when victims are found to have been put to work within their supply chains. As well as the obvious suffering of the victims, the brand and reputational damage this causes can be devastating. Things can be done and processes put in place at minimal cost to protect businesses from this threat.”
Industries most at risk of modern day slavery
Shayne Tyler, Head of Operations at fresh produce company, a client of Libre Solutions, has first-hand experience of tackling modern-day slavery after unknowingly employing in excess of 200 illegal and trafficked men & women in June 2000. He remains committed to stamping-out slavery and human trafficking and stresses the importance of working with experienced partners, such as Libre Solutions:
“Libre Solutions brings something new to the table for companies wanting to protect themselves and their supply chain from the threat of modern slavery. The vast amount of experience the team has in law enforcement is clear to see when you speak and see them work. They have readily transferable skills and experience that it would be extremely difficult to replicate within the private sector.”
Gary highlights that businesses most at risk of unknowingly employing modern day slaves are those requiring low-skilled manual labourers and Cheshire, like other areas in the UK, does have the regional demographics that appeal to organised crime groups. Contrary to popular belief, there are pockets among the more affluent areas, with cheap housing and low skilled manual jobs and quick staff turnover, which increases this vulnerability’ To combat Cheshire’s modern slavery problem, Libre Solutions has partnered with Nantwich Town Council and South Cheshire Chamber of Commerce to raise awareness of the existence of modern day slavery and the exploitation of vulnerable people.
Mayor of Nantwich, Councillor David Marren, wants to encourage all local stakeholders to work together to help eradicate modern slavery and stresses how many are unaware that it exists within Cheshire’s communities and businesses.
“Figures released by the National Crime Agency in 2017 stated that 116 different nationalities were victims of modern slavery here in the UK and whilst no exact number is known, the estimated figure of modern slavery and labour abuse victims in the UK runs into hundreds of thousands! I am appalled that in 2017 slavery abuse was reported in every county in the UK, including Cheshire.”
Jacqui Morris, International Trade Manager at South Cheshire Chamber, also highlights how the Chamber is looking to support the local campaign:
“Modern slavery is often associated with supply chain businesses based abroad, but we have seen an increase in our country too. The Chamber wants to help raise the awareness of modern slavery and protect our local businesses from this criminal activity, including their supply chain.”
As part of the campaign, a free Modern Slavery Awareness Event is being held at Nantwich Civic Centre 12.00-15.00 on 19 November 2018. The event is intended to increase knowledge and understanding of slavery and labour abuse and is being run by Libre Solutions in partnership with Nantwich Town Council and South Cheshire Chamber. The event is also supported by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. Local businesses are encouraged to sign-up at www.eventbrite.com and to contact Libra solutions directly by emailing them or visiting their website http://libresolutions.uk [email protected]