Have you recently gone to a local car wash and for less than 10 GBP had your vehicle cleaned by a team of tired Albanians? Has your teenage daughter been in town and had her fingernails painted in pretty colours by a young Vietnamese lady? Have you been to one of our supermarkets and bought freshly packaged food? Has anyone in your family ordered a swim suit for that upcoming holiday from one of those online fast fashion brands who are taking over from the old faithful high street retailers? In all of these instances you may have touched on some element of what we are now calling Modern Slavery.
Social Compliance auditing entails visiting factories, farms or warehouses to ensure that legal, salary, health & safety standards are being met in relation to the employees. During an audit (often conducted unannounced) the auditors will spend one or two days touring the site, interviewing management and workers and reviewing payroll and procedure documentation. An audit report is then issued within five working days which includes a list of issues found and recommended corrective actions.
Verisio has a team of specialised social compliance auditors who visited over 1200 sites in 2017 across the United Kingdom as part of our programs for major brands, retailers and fast-food companies. Nearly every month we have come across issues such as the following, when we interviewed employees and investigated their work and living conditions.
- Deduction of Wages in some form or other.
- Non-payment of National Minimum Wage.
- Holding of identity documents or bank
- Workers pressured into involuntary overtime.
- Migrant Workers forced into unsafe/ cramped dormitories.
- Restriction of freedom of movement.
- Bullying by labour providers or employers.
- Sexual harassment or similar.
The UK Modern Slavery Act is a leading piece of legislation that so far does not exist in other countries, however it has been written with a very light touch. The main requirement of the law is that companies with a turnover of 36 million GBP and a UK footprint must publish an annual statement explaining their policies and their actions regarding potential Modern Slavery risk in their supply chain. This currently gives scope to do much … or very little. Nevertheless the clever part of the law is that these statements have to be published on companies’ websites and so external agencies can access and review the statements easily, allowing conclusions to be drawn which companies are taking this seriously and which ones are just paying lip service.
In order for us to become more effective in tracking down vulnerable people and improving their conditions the government needs to provide more punitive clauses to the Modern Slavery Act and also to allocate more money to enforcement activity. You can help by writing an email to your local Member of Parliament, stating the following:
- Expressing your concern about Modern Slavery in the UK.
- Requesting that the Modern Slavery Act should be amended to provide more serious penalties for non-compliance.
- Demand that the government allocates more financial resources and manpower to the active enforcement of the laws relating to forced labour.