Last week Theresa May during her speech at Davos highlighted the importance of working together to tackle modern slavery. This was the first time the issue had been raised at the event and shows how it has rightly moved up the agenda since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act almost two years ago. Now that the awareness has greatly increased, I believe that 2017 must be the year of action to ensure the safety and livelihoods of those at risk.
Modern slavery is complex, being simultaneously a global and local problem which is intertwined with a wide range of other concerns. Fighting it requires everyone – including government, businesses, local communities and civil society organisations – to work together to create lasting change. Organisations like ours can help accelerate this by bringing different groups together; collaboration is crucial to our approach, and this year we will continue to lead and facilitate partnerships to drive meaningful action.
One of the key ways we are doing this is through our Stop Slavery Hotel Industry Network, bringing together leading hoteliers to create a model that can be rolled out across the sector. Having created the network towards the end of last year, we are now agreeing our priorities to act on in 2017. Later this year we will also launch our own best practice model to help hotels tackle modern slavery.
As demonstrated by the involvement of several major hotel brands, owners and management companies in this network, businesses have a vital role to play in tackling modern slavery, and must use their resources and expertise to show real industry leadership. Many companies do great work in local communities through their CSR projects, but in addition to looking externally, they need to shift their focus on internal processes and practices.
As the UK’s Anti-Slavery Commissioner said last week, businesses have a responsibility to ensure their employment processes, recruitment and trade are ethical and transparent. The case for best practice is not just a moral and ethical one; consumers are increasingly demanding companies that operate responsibly, and those that fail to do so will ultimately fall behind.
As well as demanding the right standards and practice from companies, the public can also take action by identifying and reporting concerns. An estimated 11,700 people live in modern slavery in the UK, and by ensuring that as many “eyes and ears” as possible are aware of the risks and the signs to spot, we can all make a difference. Although crimes are often well concealed and there is no ‘typical victim’, there are certain signs to look out for. By being aware of them, you could help provide invaluable information to the authorities and potentially rescue someone from slavery.
Local action that achieves real change is integral to how we operate at Shiva Foundation, and as a Local Councillor for Hertsmere, I am particularly dedicated to empowering communities to fight this heinous crime. In the coming months, we will be working with the local authorities and police force to host a Hertfordshire-wide anti-trafficking conference, with the aim of creating a task-force and referral pathways to help report and prevent modern slavery. Working together, we can help tackle instances of forced labour and sexual exploitation in the region.
In the near future we would hope that our business and local community models can both be shared and used by others in the UK and beyond as a tool to respond to this complex issue.
There is no time to waste and now that there is knowledge and awareness about the issue, there is no excuse either. There were reports on the very same day as Theresa May spoke on the issue at Davos, of the death of a man forced to work at a London car-wash in horrendous conditions. This shows how urgent the need for action is. By working together we can tackle modern slavery and the time to act is now.
Follow Meenal Sachdev on Twitter: www.twitter.com/shiva_fdn