Modern Slavery Prevention and the Pandemic
Octopus Personnel is committed to helping prevent and eradicate modern slavery, protecting the rights of the most vulnerable
Whilst Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the world, it has not affected everyone equally. For people who are enslaved or vulnerable to slavery, the economic and social disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting their lives in new and profound ways. Whilst the economics of slavery go some way to explaining why it remains such a challenging problem to eradicate, there are things which can be done to help those affected.
Slavery is big business
Globally, slavery generates as much as $150bn (£116bn) in profits every year. Shockingly, more than one third of which ($46.9bn) is generated in developed countries, including the European Union.
According to slavery expert Siddharth Kara, modern slave traders now earn up to 30 times more than their 18th and 19th century counterparts would have done. The one-off cost of a slave today is $450, Kara estimates. A forced labourer generates roughly $8,000 in annual profit (6,142.80 Pounds Sterling) for their exploiter, while sex traffickers earn an average of $36,000 (27,628.02 Pounds Sterling) per victim.
Two centuries ago, slave traders were forced to contend with costly journeys and high mortality rates; modern exploiters have lower overheads thanks to huge advances in technology and transportation. Ongoing issues with modern migration flows and government policies also mean that a large supply of vulnerable, exploitable people are easily accessible, and can be drawn into global supply chains in the agriculture, beauty, fashion and sex industries.
What do modern slaves do?
Slavery is an umbrella term for activities involved when one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service. Of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, the majority (16 million) work in the private sector. Slaves clean houses and flats; produce the clothes we wear; pick the fruit and vegetables we eat; trawl the seas for the shrimp on our restaurant plates; dig for the minerals used in our smartphones, makeup and electric cars; and work on construction jobs building infrastructure for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Women and girls bear the brunt of these statistics, comprising 99% of all victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors, according to the ILO.
Someone is in slavery if they are:
- forced to work through mental or physical threat
- owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse
- dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’
- physically constrained or have restrictions placed on his/her freedom
The following definitions are encompassed within the term ‘modern slavery’ for the purposes of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
- ‘slavery’ is where ownership is exercised over a person
- ‘servitude’ involves the obligation to provide services imposed by coercion
- ‘forced or compulsory labour’ involves work or service extracted from any person under the menace of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself voluntarily
- ‘human trafficking’ concerns arranging or facilitating the travel of another with a view to exploiting them.
How has the pandemic increased the risks to vulnerable people?
1. For children and young people, social isolation may increase their vulnerability to grooming and abuse.
2. Lockdowns to halt the spread of the virus have led to mass layoffs as many global brands have cancelled orders and factories have been required to shut down. The garment industry has been particularly badly affected: by late March over one million workers in Bangladesh had been laid off or temporarily suspended.
3. Migrant workers returning home due to coronavirus restrictions are at great risk of infection when travelling on crowded public transport, stuck at borders or other bottlenecks where physical distancing is all but impossible.
4. In the UK, many are often too scared to reach out to authorities, even when they are in dire need of accessing essential support, such as healthcare. They fear being criminalised and detained, rather than being protected as a victim of crime.
5. Coronavirus lockdowns across the world have limited the operations of anti-slavery organisations.
Is slavery still a problem in the UK?
Even though most people think that slavery only exists overseas, modern slavery in the UK is thriving. The British Government estimates that tens of thousands of people are in modern slavery in the UK today. Most people are trafficked into the UK from overseas, but there is also a significant number of British nationals in slavery. The most common countries of origin are Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, Romania and Poland.
What does Octopus Personnel do to prevent modern slavery?
At Octopus Personnel, we committed to eliminating the exploitation of people under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the Act). In order to assess the risk of modern slavery, we use the following processes with our clients:
Many businesses are not equipped to tackle the risk of modern slavery. Supply chain risks are characterised by groups vulnerable to labour exploitation including migrant workers undertaking unskilled or irregular work; young people and unskilled or illiterate workers and displaced people and by the use of third party labour providers for recruitment and employment. Effective strategies to tackle the risk of modern slavery require: a good understanding of where risks lie in the supply chain; an action plan to tackle those risks; remediation policies and effective monitoring and reporting.
When engaging with our clients, we ask for evidence of their processes and policies, including commitments around modern slavery, human trafficking, forced labour, human rights and whistle-blowing. Octopus Personnel confirms with all our clients that no child labour will be used.
After due consideration, we have not identified any significant risks of modern slavery, forced labour, or human trafficking in our supply chain or with our clients. However, we continue to be alert to the potential for problems.
Additionally, we have taken the following steps to minimise the possibility of any problems:
- We require the businesses we work with to address modern slavery concerns in their policies.
- We collaborate with our clients in order to improve standards and transparency.
- Only senior members of staff who have undergone appropriate training for assessing modern slavery risks are authorised to sign contracts and establish commercial relationships in any area where we have identified the potential for risk.
- We ensure that all of our clients are members of appropriate industry bodies and working groups.
- We work with GLAA, ALP and REC in order to combat the risk of modern slavery and human trafficking.
Our staff are encouraged to bring any concerns they have to the attention of management.
What do I do if I think someone is a victim of modern slavery?
According to Anti-Slavery International, slavery is so common that it is possible you come across victims “on a regular basis”. Key things to look out for are whether the person has freedom of movement; appears scared, withdrawn or shows signs of abuse; has few personal belongings or identifying documents with them; or seems under the control of someone else and scared to talk.
If you think someone may be vulnerable or a victim or modern slavery, it is best to contact authorities directly instead of approaching the person, as approaching them could put them in danger.
In the UK, you can contact the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700, the police, Crimestoppers or groups such as Anti-Slavery International.
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