Whilst the word slavery conjures images of 18th century American plantations, it is critical we recognise that slavery still exists around the world. Whilst slavery was abolished in 1833 and 1865 in the UK and USA respectively, it was not abolished in the last country until 1981. However, abolition has not stopped slavery. Perpetrators have instead become more devious and inventive. Modern slavery involves the exploitation of people and can come in a variety of different forms. It includes: forcing a person to work against their will; enforcing restrictions on their freedom of movement; dehumanising a person; treating someone as a commodity or property and defining a person as owned/controlled by another. Nearly two centuries after its abolition, a huge 13,000 people are believed to be living in modern slavery within the UK. This statistic alone should be a call to arms, we all have a responsibility to combat this inhumane practice.

Types of Modern Slavery

Modern slavery can present in a variety of forms, often interlinking and co-existent. Human trafficking is the act of tricking, threatening or coercing people into situations in which they are exploited. The victims are then traded for financial gain. Contrary to popular belief, trafficking can occur within a victim’s own country and doesn’t always involve crossing borders. Human trafficking is the gateway to many other forms of modern slavery.

Labour exploitation is when people are forced to work for nothing, or their income goes straight to their “owner”. Similarly, sexual exploitation is when people are forced to work in the sex industry. Financial exploitation is where vulnerable people are targeted by trusted individuals to obtain their money or take out loans in their name. Domestic servitude is a type of labour exploitation that involves being forced into housework, often alongside confinement, and can be accompanied by physical, verbal and sexual abuse. Young, female workers typically fall prey to this type of slavery under the illusion that working for their employer will gain them a visa allowing them to study in the country.

Forced, early or sham marriages also constitute modern slavery. Being forced or coerced into marriage against your wishes (e.g. an arranged marriage that is not willingly consented to) falls into this category. This type of slavery largely links with EU status exploitation, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. EU status exploitation is the targeting of European Union (EU) citizens for their citizenship. They are forced or coerced into sham marriages, allowing their partner freedom of movement within the EU.

Organ harvesting is the illegal practice of removing someone’s organs or eggs for sale on the black market. This can either be voluntary, through desperation for money, or forced. Forced criminality is where people are coerced into taking part in criminal activities (e.g. begging, prostitution, theft and cannabis cultivation). This type of slavery is largely linked with sexual exploitation as well as labour exploitation and human trafficking. Descent based, or hereditary, slavery is specific to some countries (e.g. Mali) that have strict caste systems defining a sector of the population slaves from birth. Slavery is deeply ingrained in culture is this practice and can be difficult to eradicate.

Who is Vulnerable to Slavery?

Everyone. Modern slavery is indiscriminate of age, race and gender. However, whilst we are all potential victims, some groups of people are more at risk than others. For example, migrants are particularly vulnerable to labour exploitation. They can be promised jobs in foreign countries but be tricked into owing their recruiters travel costs when they arrive. Similarly, those who fall into debt can be coerced into slavery to pay it off and subjected to an interest rate so high they will never pay it in full. Labour exploitation can occur in any industry. Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of your suppliers’ actions and ensure they are not exploiting labourers. Vulnerable adults (e.g. elderly, physically handicapped or cognitively impaired individuals) can fall victim to financial exploitation. These adults must be properly safeguarded to ensure that a trusted individual is not taking advantage of them.

Recognising Modern Slavery

Slavery can see families torn apart and vulnerable individuals deprived of their liberties. It is a violation of basic human rights. We all have a responsibility to be vigilant for signs of modern slavery and speak up if ever we suspect it. As well as the devastating effects that slavery has on its victims, your organisation too will feel the repercussions if it is to be discovered to be linked to slavery, albeit inadvertently. The main types of slavery that could present in your supply chain are: human trafficking and labour exploitation. Here are some red flags to look out for:

  • Supplier location –India, China, Thailand and Bangladesh have an increased risk of labour exploitation
  • Labour hire practices e.g. excessive recruitment fees, unnecessary wage deductions, passport confiscation, inhumane treatment, etc.
  • Industry sector
  • Prior public concerns regarding labour standards

You should collate all of the information above and combine it to calculate how high risk your suppliers are. The world’s largest foodmaker and household name Nestlé has come under scrutiny in recent years regarding modern slavery. The company was accused of utilising child slaves in their supply chain. This news led to uproar and a negative shift in public perception of the brand. However, some of this disgust was offset by admiration for an open admission that they had subsequently found labour exploitation in their Thai seafood suppliers. The transparency in this disclosure was widely praised and has demonstrated the necessity of being open in recognising and addressing these issues.