The Co-op Group is calling for the Modern Slavery Act to be strengthened – as it hosts a summit for organisations supporting survivors of the crime.
In a submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into modern slavery, the Group says legal requirements for large companies to report on their efforts to eliminate trafficking from their supply chains should be tightened – and extended to public bodies.
It points out the Home Office has no means of knowing exactly which businesses are required to produce a statement. Because of this, it can’t identify or punish businesses that have failed to meet the legal requirement, or compel firms to comply. It also makes it very difficult for consumers to take informed decisions on which business they want to trade with or not.
Paul Gerrard, director of campaigns at the Co-op, said: “As it stands the Act is creating an uneven playing field because without sanction or the threat of sanction it is, effectively, easier and cheaper to be non-compliant rather than be compliant.
“Unfortunately, criminals who choose to enslave individuals do not restrict themselves to commercial operations and so public bodies must also be taken into the scope of the act if the Home Office is to achieve what was intended when it was passed.”
The submission comes as the Co-op hosts a summit in Manchester for the 15 companies and 20 charities that have signed up to the innovative Bright Future programme, which provides employment for those rescued from slavery.
The programme, devised by the Co-op in conjunction with the charity City Hearts, offers victims a four-week paid work placement leading to a non-competitive interview. If both are successful, the candidate will be offered a permanent job with the host business.
Already more than 50 vulnerable survivors are being given a chance to rebuild their lives and it is envisaged that up to 300 will secure placements through the Bright Future programme by 2020.
Related: Co-op Group signs anti-slavery charter
As well food suppliers and independent co-op societies, companies who’ve joined the Bright Future programme include Typhoo, Arco, John Lewis Partnership, Dixons Carphone, The Body Shop and Marshalls Plc.
For his work on the Group’s modern slavery campaign, Mr Gerrard has just been featured in the UK Top 100 Corporate Modern Slavery Influencers, alongside the business’s senior ethics manager Hannah Lerigo and its north-west constituency Members Council member Mary McGuigan.
The index was is developed and delivered by BRE, a building science centre and Sustain Worldwide, a strategic communications business. The list is based on the combination of influence on social media, policy impact, and advocacy, including speaking and media engagements.
Mr Gerrard said: “While it is an honour for me, Hannah and Mary to be singled out like this, it is really testament to the foresight and the support of our members who backed our modern slavery campaign at last year’s AGM. It says a great deal for the way the Co-op has led the national debate especially on survivor support.
“Having heard at first hand the harrowing stories of people who have been caught up in the heinous crime of modern slavery, I am proud the Co-op is working to help eliminate it and that others companies are now following our lead and providing jobs for survivors.”
Ms McGuigan added: “It’s an absolute honour to be nominated in the UK Top 100 Corporate Modern Slavery Influencers among such esteemed people. I am proud to have been involved in the Co-op’s campaign to tackle modern slavery. This campaign epitomises the reason that I joined the Co-op and why I love it. Through co-operation, being true to our values and being unafraid to challenge injustice, we can change the world.”
The rankings of the 2018 Top 100 influencers will be announced during a recognition dinner in London on 26 September. The event will be hosted by Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey. One person will also be recognised as The 2018 Annual UK Top1 Corporate Modern Slavery Influencer.
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