Operation Fort is the UK’s largest anti-slavery prosecution, with eight members of a Polish criminal gang convicted of slavery, trafficking and money laundering offences on 5th July 2019.
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner report highlights “Operation Fort is important not only because of the number of victims, but also the length of time the criminal gang was able to operate without disruption.” The gang’s activities were traced back to 2012 and continued four years after the Modern Slavery Act was passed in 2015.
The case involved 92 victims aged between 17- 60 who spoke minimal or no English, who were forced to work on farms, in factories, waste recycling plants, warehouses and live in dire conditions in the Birmingham area, although West Midlands PD estimated 400 Polish nationals may have been subject to this exploitation. Operation Fort was a complex case of modern slavery involving many criminal elements, including labour exploitation, human trafficking, fraud, deception, theft and physical abuse.
A key lesson from this case lends to employers and businesses being educated and proactive in spotting the signs of slavery and exploitation, and having effective measures in place to report concerns. There must be particular safeguards in place for temporary workers. Lessons to banks suggest they must proactively look for the signs of slavery within their branches, and also by analysing financial data. Furthermore, recruitment agencies can learn lessons from this case. They have an important role in identifying victims during interview or inductions, carrying out effective checks to detect anomalies, and an ongoing responsibility to check on worker welfare.
“Operation Fort sends a clear warning that no supply chain is safe from worker exploitation. Modern slavery and human trafficking gangs are highly adaptable; organisations must continually evolve to keep pace with entrepreneurial criminality.”
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner provides a maturity framework for business’ compliance to the Modern Slavery Act:
BARELY ACHIEVING COMPLIANCE
Superficial modern slavery statement – policy but no action
Little or no mapping of supply chains
Minimal awareness of modern slavery amongst staff
Sole reliance on audits
No protocol for dealing with labour abuse
MEETING BASIC EXPECTATIONS
Evidence of activity or improvement in modern slavery statement
Identifying areas of high-risk in the business and supply chains
Educating suppliers on policy and setting expectations
Regular staff training and awareness-raising exercises
Basic protocols for dealing with labour exploitation cases
Installing whistleblowing hotlines
EVOLVING GOOD PRACTICE
External challenge or working groups informing strategy
Going beyond auditing – deep dives and unannounced visits
Cascading ethical standards throughout supply chains
In-depth training for staff in key roles, such as procurement
Commitment to worker engagement
Implementing the Employer Pays principle
LEADING ON HUMAN RIGHTS INNOVATION
Board leading on human rights strategy
Using data analytics to identify risk
Local, national, international intelligence gathering
Supporting suppliers to develop ethical competencies
Pioneering new ways of worker engagement, using technology
Factoring in the true cost of labour
Find the full Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner report here.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased the risks and vulnerability for many in society and will continue to do so for many years after the initial pandemic itself has ended. In addition to those trapped in violent, abusive, and exploitative situations at home, for many around the world the economic impacts of coronavirus have raised their vulnerability to potentially becoming trapped in bonded labour, forced labour or other forms of modern slavery. The raised demand for certain products, alongside an increased demand for work, has also exposed may factory workers potentially exploitative working conditions, and the impact on global programmes focusing on human rights have been delayed; potentially resulting in millions of additional cases in the coming years. It is vital to ensure that in tackling the global public health crisis much of the positive development in addressing human rights around the world is not undone, and Governments and private sector actors continue to address and improve the situations of society’s most vulnerable individuals.
Door to door scams and rogue traders have been points of focus recently for their links with modern slavery and human trafficking. However, the links between door to door scams and modern slavery and human trafficking are not new issues. In July 2015 the Polaris Project published a report entitled ‘knocking at your door: Labor Trafficking on Sales Crews‘, exploring the major issues of modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour in the travelling sales industry. The Polaris Project’s report focused specifically on the US context, but awareness of door to door scams and rogue trader’s links with modern slavery and human trafficking has risen in the United Kingdom too.
The noted increase in victims of modern slavery being used to carry out door to door sales and scams has led to authorities calling for greater vigilance from consumers, both to be careful of new incarnations of old scams, but also of who is the individual apparently carrying them out.
The content of modern slavery statements: This section addressed inconsistencies in reporting approaches taken by different companies and the possibility of making certain criteria mandatory. This section also sought to address the fact that global movements in modern slavery legislation may make it desirable to ‘harmonise our approach’. The questions posed focused on reporting practices and the implications of making certain areas mandatory.
Transparency, Compliance, and enforcement: The second section of the consultation sought to propose the introduction of a central government registry, one designed to improve transparency. It also addressed reporting deadlines, proposing a single annual reporting deadline so as to reduce the confusion of multiple separate deadlines throughout the year. It finally sought to gain views into how section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act might be enforced. Questions were posed on each of these areas.
Public sector supply chains: The final area addressed in the consultation examined public sector supply chains. In essence, the consultation proposed that reporting requirements would be extended to public sector organisations with a turnover of more than £36 million per year. Reporting requirements would be for each individual government body to maintain responsibility, whether given individually or as part of a group statement. The questions posed by this section of the consultation focused on the apparent benefits and challenges of imposing modern slavery reporting requirements on large public sector bodies.
However, whilst the use of technology to combat human trafficking and modern slavery is advancing in new directions and receiving high profile acclaim concerns have been raised that technology merely constitutes a tool and its use alone may not be enough. TechUK, an organisation responsible for representing approximately 900 companies that develop technology, has raised concerns that for technological tools to be truly effective corporations need to ensure they have a strong anti-slavery culture with a willingness to act. Whilst strong corporate and social anti-slavery cultures are vital, the development of technological tools and processes to target human trafficking and modern slavery demonstrate positive commitments by a wide range of actors to tackling these issues. Many of these technological developments are recognised as new and as these tools are refined it is quite possible that technology will take play a greater role in combating human trafficking and modern slavery.
New Modern Slavery Act 2018 in Australia introduces strict reporting requirements for businesses among other key objectives.
There has been significant interest recently over the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (MSA) in Australia, and its likely coming into force in early 2019. The act will carry with it significant thresholds for businesses to meet in terms of reporting requirements. But what is the new act?
The UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA have made progress in the movement to expel modern slavery and labour exploitation from global supply chains.
These five partner countries have created a set of 4 principles designed for nations all over the world to adopt, in order to promote ethical supply chain compliance within their jurisdictions. The principles are aimed at policy level, addressing both public and private sector procurement, supply chains, recruitment and encourages the need for cooperation between such actors.
The four principles are as follows:
Governments should take steps to prevent and address human trafficking in government procurement practices
analyse, develop and implement measures to identify, prevent and reduce the risk of human trafficking in government procurement supply chains
provide tools and incentives and adopt risk assessment policies and procedures that require their procurement officers and contractors to assess the nature and extent of potential exposure to human trafficking in their supply chains
take targeted action, including adopting appropriate due diligence processes, to identify, prevent, mitigate, remedy, and account on how they address human trafficking
Governments should encourage the private sector to prevent and address human trafficking in its supply chains
work in partnership with business, workers and survivors to set clear expectations for private sector entities on their responsibility to conduct appropriate due diligence in their supply chains to identify, prevent and mitigate human trafficking
provide tools and incentives to the private sector to encourage meaningful action and public reporting of their efforts, including through programmes policies or legislation
Governments should advance responsible recruitment policies and practices
advance responsible recruitment practices, including by implementing polices that incentivise and support responsible practice, and by support initiatives such as the ‘Employer Pays Principle’
contribute to the growing knowledge base of promising practices for protecting workers from fraud and exploitation in the recruitment process
Governments should strive for harmonisation
make reasonable efforts to share information and work with other committed governments to align existing and proposed laws, regulations and polices to combat human trafficking in global supply chains
The UK, leading global efforts in anti-slavery policy, is encouraging governments at the UN General Assembly to adopt these principles. By leveraging the combined $600 billion purchasing power of the partnered nations there is the capital to influence high-level actors in both public and private sectors.
The principles provide a clear and progressive framework for cooperating governments to aim towards. The major drawback, however, is the lack of enforcement of these principles, which in many instances is controlled by legislation. However, for these principles to be effective in practice rather than theory, strict and coherent sanctions are critical. The further challenge is to address cross border transactions, and encourage non-cooperative countries that produce the majority of global slavery statistics to adopt and enforce such principles.
The UNHCR, OECD and other international agencies are working on an ‘Action Plan’ to overcome the issue of refugee employment. This plan aims to integrate refugees into the labour market by overcoming the issues and creating a strategy to identify the skills that can actively contribute to the economy of the host nation.
Through research and interviews, having secure and safe employment is the top contributor to integration in a new society, which protects them from the potential for labour exploitation. Although each host destination has subjective conditions and labour requirements, the action plan is a holistic and broad framework composed of 10 steps:
Action 1 – Navigate the administrative framework
Action 2 – Provide employers with sufficient legal certainty
Action 3 – Identify and verify refugees’ skills
Action 4 – Developing skills for job-readiness
Action 5 – Match refugee talent with employers’ needs
Action 6 – Provide equal opportunities in recruitment and combat stereotypes
Action 7 – Prepare the working environment
Action 8 – Enable long-term employability
Action 9 – Make the business case for hiring refugees
Action 10 – Coordinate actions between all stakeholders
Whether in refuge from conflict, environmental or economic hardship, 65 million people globally have been forcibly displaced from their homes, of which refugees make up 25.5 million. Due to the nature of globalisation, these rates are increasing, along with the frequency and types of labour exploitation of refugees and vulnerable populations.
The primary cause of these new figures points to the previous underestimation of labour exploitation against sexual exploitation rates, as there is relatively less targeted legislation, and there have been few successful prosecutions and convictions. With both forms of exploitation, victims fear reprisals from traffickers, which makes data collection difficult, as well as impacting on low conviction rates.