Employee-owned John Lewis Partnership is the latest business to sign up to the Bright Futures programme, which aims to provide jobs for the victims of modern slavery.
Devised by the Co-op Group in partnership with charity City Hearts, the scheme is now attracting a new business every week. Among those to recently join are Dixons Carphone and the Body Shop, in partnership with Single Resource, the East of England Co-operative, the Midcounties Co-operative and Marshalls plc.
The scheme offers victims a four-week paid work placement leading to a non-competitive interview. If successful, the candidate is offered a permanent job within the host business. So far, 50 survivors have been given a chance to rebuild their lives through the scheme, with the Co-op Group estimating that 300 will secure placements by 2020.
Upon joining the programme, businesses work hand in hand with a nationwide network of local victim support charities, established by the City Hearts charity in conjunction with the Co-op, to identify suitable applicants.
Speaking at a Businesses Against Modern Slavery Forum in Westminster, Co-op Group CEO Steve Murrells said: “This is corporate responsibility at its best. Not only is business stepping up to the plate and providing jobs for the victims of modern slavery but by adopting this programme they are also highlighting the existence of this evil crime amongst their staff, suppliers and customers.
“We think of slavery as something from the history books but it is happening in towns, cities and even rural areas across the UK at this very moment. Having heard at first hand the harrowing stories of people who have been caught up in this heinous crime, I am proud that we are working to help eliminate it and that others are that so many other businesses joining us in providing job opportunities.
“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.”
The minister for crime safeguarding and vulnerability, Victoria Atkins, said: “Modern slavery is a despicable crime affecting the most vulnerable people in our society, who are targeted by ruthless predatory criminals.
“We are leading the world in the fight against it through the Modern Slavery Act and our advanced law enforcement response, but businesses have a vital role to play, especially when it comes to eradicating this crime in their supply chains.
“It is, therefore, encouraging to see new businesses supporting victims through the Co-op’s Bright Future programme, giving them an opportunity to re-build their lives and move on from the exploitation they have faced.”
Benet Northcote, director of corporate responsibility at John Lewis, said the business’s approach to tackling modern slavery was influenced by its values as an employee-owned business.
“We have long been committed to raising labour standards, improving working conditions and creating fairly rewarded employment,” he said, “so we are pleased to be part of this scheme.
“For people rebuilding their lives after being victim to such a terrible crime as modern slavery, the opportunity to experience how positive and empowering work can be is tremendously exciting.”
Phillip Clayton, head of development at City Hearts, added: “City Hearts believes in the restoration and freedom of every life. We are honoured to work alongside so many businesses in Bright Future, providing hope where many had none.
“In over a decade of working with survivors of slavery, many are victims of horrendous and unspeakable crimes against their most basic human rights. However, we have witnessed the profound impact that Bright Future can have on a life.
“We are delighted with the variety and number of opportunities provided by these new business partners that will strengthen what we can offer through the National Matching System.
“Knowing that businesses are rising up to make a difference, many more survivors will experience dignity, hope and real transformation.”