Modern Slavery is one of the great evils of our time and be under no illusion, it’s happening right under our noses.
Some think of slavery as an injustice from long ago. But the reality is, there are more people in conditions of slavery today than ever before. Estimates suggest that 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery – and here in the U.K., in nail bars, car washes, construction sites, factories, restaurants & take aways, the official figure for modern slavery stands at 13,000 in the Britain, however Kevin Hyland, the UKs independent anti-slavery commissioner, said this figure was probably far lower than the true picture which probably runs in to the tens of thousands, other estimates from 2016 estimated it could be as high as 136,000. Whatever figure you use the number means there is likely to be victims in almost every major town and city across the U.K. including here, in Lewisham.
But what is modern slavery, well the term captures a whole range of types of exploitation, many of which occur together. These include but are not limited to: Sexual exploitation; Debt bondage; Domestic servitude; Forced labour; Criminal exploitation. Other forms of exploitation include: forced ‘begging, benefit fraud and marriage’, illegal adoption, and in extremis organ removal.
Modern slavery is a cold, calculated and abusive business model, where costs are cut by depriving liberty, often with victims beaten, abused and humiliated to boot.. In short, Modern Slavery is where traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.
Modern Slavery can affect adults and children, and last year 51% of victims were female and 49% male. 15% of victims were referred for domestic servitude; and there are now more victims exploited for labour than those who had been trafficked for sex.
It affects foreign nationals, but many of those exploited are from the UK and exploited within this country. In 2016 the third largest victim group were British.
Tonight Council, this motion sets out our expectations that we ensure that there’s nowhere to hide for modern slavery in our council’s supply chain, through both direct and indirect purchasing.
The Co-operative Party’s Charter Against Modern slavery, which this motion urges Mayor & Cabinet to adopt, goes further than existing law and guidance, committing councils to proactively vetting their own supply chain to ensure no instances of modern slavery are taking place.
Collectively, local authorities in England spend more than £40bn per year procuring goods and services on our behalf.
From ‘cleaning to construction’ to ‘caring to catering’ and everything between and beyond, councils do business with literally thousands of different suppliers–both big and small every day. Many of those firms in turn have contractors and suppliers of their own too. Through harnessing that spending power, setting out our redlines as a local authority and guarding against supplier abuse, we can systematically seek to remove those who can’t assure us they are ‘slavery free’ from doing business with us.
The Charter is a series of simple and low-cost actions that councils can take to ensure their supply chains are not contributing to modern slavery. Awareness is very important, in recognising and acting on the signs of slavery, that is why training of officers is key as well as informing suppliers of their obligations. Key rights for workers such as freedom to join a trade union and whistleblowing help ensure an environment where modern slavery can’t thrive.
By joining the growing number of local authorities such as those in London including Brent, Barking & Dagenham, Islington, Hackney, Lambeth, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest who have signed up to this charter we’ll be both systematically and cooperatively working to eradicate Modern Slavery both in Lewisham & Beyond, for good.
But for this to be effective, we must not just pay this motion lip service…
We must ensure in every corner of the council, in every penny we spend, From town centre regenerations to pencils, that we work to drive out modern slavery and ensure not a single Lewisham Pound ends up in the pocket of a trafficker.
Chair, I move.