The UK’s Anti-Slavery Commissioner, in partnership with the Evening Standard and the Independent, has published a report ‘Slaves on our Streets’ following an investigation into modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK. The three month investigation found that modern slavery remains an under-recognised issue. Approximately 13,000 people are held in slavery in the UK today.

The report has made a number of recommendations for a more holistic approach to eradicating slavery. Key recommendations include:

  • the likelihood of modern slavery in supply chains is high. Non-compliance with section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act must be identifiable through a recognised process and result in sanctions;
  • companies should be encouraged to pursue profit with integrity, and compliance with modern slavery should be on the same footing as other sustainability goals;
  • any corporate regulation must be in support of market-driven solutions;
  • companies should band together by sector or industry to have greater clout.

Under UK law, businesses are already encouraged to recognise the problem of modern slavery and to be watchful of the signs of organised crime, such as money laundering. Under section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, companies with a turnover of more than £36 million must produce an annual report detailing their efforts to prevent slavery in any part of their business or supply chain. However, around 50% of companies that are obliged to report are failing to do so.

The report proposes that organisations sign up to a voluntary statement pledging vigilance against modern slavery. This statement has already received a number of high profile signatories, such as Waitrose and the City of London Corporation. Proposals include that businesses should make their modern slavery statements part of their annual accounts, and that those which fail to comply should be named and shamed.

Businesses are strongly urged to do more, such as ensuring that staff are trained to recognise and report the signs of modern slavery, and refusing to do business with unethical suppliers. The report, which can be read in full here, also emphasises the importance of reintegrating slavery survivors and encourages companies to introduce schemes, such as the Co-op’s Bright Future programme, to provide employment and training opportunities to survivors.

Following the launch of the report, leading businessmen, philanthropists and politicians have announced a new global fund for ending modern slavery. Modelled on the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria, this new public-private partnership plans to develop a $1.5 billion (£1.1 billion) fund ‘to coordinate a coherent, global strategy to address modern slavery’. Initial combined funding from the United States and the UK governments of $52 million has been confirmed.