The Co-op Group has announced a scheme to help integrate victims of the modern slave trade back into communities by giving them jobs.
It has teamed up with the charity City Hearts, which offers support and accommodation to vulnerable people, to provide 30 survivors of the crime paid work experience in its food business – and, if suitable, a guaranteed job.
Under the programme – called Bright Future – the Group offers a four-week paid work placement followed by a non-competitive interview. If this is successful and there is a position vacant, the candidate will be offered a job.
The first beneficiary of the scheme is already working in a Co-op store in the north west.
In 2015, the government brought the Modern Slavery Act into place, piloted by Theresa May – then home secretary – to tackle the problem, which she says is one of the great human rights issues of our time.
The prime minister has cited cases of gangs forcing vulnerable and trafficked people into sexual slavery, criminal activity and unpaid work.
Estimates suggest there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims in the UK alone and over 45 million across the world.
The Group’s chief executive Steve Murrells said: “Having heard our new colleague’s harrowing story I am proud that our co-op has teamed up with City Hearts to offer real practical help to survivors of this evil crime.
“Victims need to be supported while they rebuild their lives and central to that is the dignity that paid, freely chosen employment provides. Without this, there is a real chance that they could fall back into the hands of those who have exploited them, and for the terrible, unspeakable cycle of enslavement to begin again.
“Modern slavery will only be stopped by government, businesses and society working together to ensure supply chains are transparent, giving this shocking crime no shadow to hide in.”
Sarah Newton, minister for vulnerability, safeguarding and countering extremism, said: “I am pleased the Co-op is launching this initiative. The private sector has a vital role to play in eradicating this barbaric crime and I hope that this positive project will inspire other businesses to take action in the future.”
Kevin Hyland, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, added: “We need more companies to respond to modern slavery like the Co-op. This pioneering approach to victim support will provide long-term care, boost opportunities for the future and, most importantly of all, prevent the risk of re-trafficking.
“This unique initiative marks the first time victims have been directly offered work placements and employment opportunities. In doing so, the Co-op has empowered victims of modern slavery and human trafficking to live a bright future.”
The Group’s work highlighting the issue is bearing fruit, with several of its key suppliers including Tulip, Greencore and 2Sisters already signed up to support Bright Future in 2017 and preparing to provide employment opportunities to victims of modern slavery.
City Hearts, which has a global mandate, was founded by Jenny Gilpin, and now operates in the UK, Africa and Europe. In the UK, it helps victims of human trafficking and modern day slavery, operating safe houses, outreach and longer term support.
The government provides direct support in terms of housing and financial support to victims for a 45 day period while their claim to be a victim of modern slavery is considered.
City Hearts then works with individuals through a long-term integration support programme, offering a range of tailored practical support.