A fifth of Brits unaware of modern slavery, says Co-op Group

New research into forced labour exploitation was released to mark the second anniversary of the Bright Future scheme

New research commissioned by the Co-op Group shows that 18% of British people are unaware of modern slavery.

The study was published on 1 March to coincide with the second anniversary of Bright Future, an employment scheme that brings charities and businesses together to create jobs for victims of modern slavery.

The programme was devised by the Group and charity City Hearts to help modern slavery survivors regain control of their lives by getting back into paid employment.

Eighteen businesses and 26 charities have joined the scheme so far. However, raising awareness of modern slavery remains a key challenge. According to the research, one in five Brits remains “totally unaware” of modern slavery. Around 82% of those surveyed had heard of modern slavery and believed more should be done to combat it. Of these, 47% wanted more information to advise people on how to spot the signs of those who may be captives and almost four in ten (36%) believed employers could do more to help victims find work.

Bright Future has already helped to provide employment to 50 survivors, with the Co-op Group estimating that 300 will secure placements by 2020.

Among them were Peter from Romania and Martin from Poland. Peter lived in shared accommodation with a group of kick boxers who intimidated him. He was forced to work in a car wash for free and accompanied to banks to open accounts used for money laundering.

After a couple of weeks, he managed to escape and took the fake IDs they had created for him to the local police station. He was referred to City Hearts and the Bright Future programme, and has now been working for 10 months.

“I love my life now, I can travel and think about my future,” he said.

Similarly, 39-year old Martin from Poland fell into a situation of labour exploitation and was forced to work in fruit and vegetable factories as well as doing agricultural labour. During this time, he was not being paid any wages and was severely assaulted. He reported one of the assaults to the police, who then referred him to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for specialist trafficking support.

Once his case was shared with Bright Future, he was offered a placement in a Co-op store, where he has been over the past 10 months. He says: “Bright Future has changed my life for the better. I now have a steady income, am able to pay my bills independently, and pay off past debts.”

Paul Gerrard, director of Campaigns at the Co-op said the Bright Future scheme had attracted some of the UK’s top businesses, including John Lewis, Typhoo, Dixons Carphone and the Body Shop – but that there was more to do.

“Unfortunately, despite the way in which Bright Future has transformed lives – as the stories of Martin and Peter show – this research underlines how much work still needs to be done if modern slavery is to be eliminated from our society,” he said.

“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 so many other businesses are 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.”

Phil Clayton, head of development at City Hearts, is encouraging more businesses and charities to join the programme.

He said: “The work we’ve done over the past two years has been a huge step in accelerating victims from trauma to transformation.

“The Bright Future opportunity reflects our founder, Jenny Gilpins’ passion to see lives filled with hope and dignity. It has been exciting to see the impact of true collaboration across the business and charity spectrum.

“Our goal is 300 placements by 2020 and it’s not too late to jump on board. In particular if you are a hospitality business or a charity working closely with survivors we would love to hear from you in order to grow Bright Future, offering many, many more survivors the chance of lasting freedom, dignity and restoration.”