Chief executive Steve Murrells has written to his counterparts at all FTSE 100 companies asking them to pledge to the charter developed by Anti-Slavery International. According to the International Labour Organisation, in 2017 there were at least 40 million people in slavery across the world. The charter sets out measures which states, NGOs, businesses and individuals can take to end modern slavery across the globe.
The Home Office defines modern slavery as “a serious and brutal crime in which people are treated as commodities and exploited for criminal gain,” adding that the true extent of modern slavery in the UK and at global level, is unknown.
In 2017 a total of 5,145 people from 116 countries were referred into the National Referral Mechanism to be identified as survivors of trafficking and to receive support. However, the Home Office estimates that there may be as many as 13,000 people held in slavery in the UK.
Mr Murrells said: “We think of slavery as something from the history books but it is happening in the UK at this very moment.
“This is a blight on our society which impacts on our fellow human beings in the most unimaginable ways as they are stripped of their freedom and their dignity. Hidden in plain sight working in nail bars, car washes and in private homes.
“I believe that UK businesses have a moral responsibility to lead the global business community. By standing together and co-operating we can make it clear that we will not allow this terrible crime to continue. The charter recognises that it is only through the co-ordinated actions of all parties that we will make progress.”
Anti-Slavery International’s CEO Jasmine O’Connor said: “Companies have a critical role to play in making sure that products we all use on a daily basis are not tainted by slavery. It’s great to see the Co-op taking a lead by signing the Anti-Slavery Charter and calling for others to join them in the fight against slavery. We hope that other businesses will follow suit, sign up and take action to tackle slavery in their supply chains’’.
By adhering to the charter, the Co-op Group vows to ensure full transparency of its supply chains to identify where risks of slavery, forced and child labour are highest and to help identify the causes of these risks. In addition, the mutual will ensure through due-diligence that any labour providers it uses must adhere to basic standards of human rights protections.
Already the Co-op Group has been running a job creation programme, which offers permanent employment to survivors of modern slavery at the retailer’s food stores and distribution centres. Through the Bright Future programme, the Group offers survivors a four-week paid work placement leading to a non-competitive interview. If successful and there are positions available, the candidates are offered a job within the Co-op Food business. The scheme has so far helped 20 survivors secure employment, with further candidates at various stages of the programme as well.