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30 / Sep / 15
By Damian Miller
Author

Empowering Workers: ‘Modern Slavery’

With new government legislation about ‘Modern Slavery’ on the horizon it is worth taking some time to consider the impact such legislation could have on employee engagement strategies. Whilst the details of the legislation are still being worked on, it is clear that the government considers the wellbeing of all workers to be somewhat the responsibility of employers.

Those companies who rely on large groups of those who can be considered vulnerable, such as large migrant worker populations, will be considering how they will respond to providing assurances that the agencies they work with are looking after the wellbeing of the people they hire. Within the retail supply chain this is not new news, for some time now many retailers have been holding their supply chain partners to account for ensuring that workers are not being abused or exploited by opportunists.

There have been many news stories about ‘sweatshops’ and terrible practices by unscrupulous employers overseas, and the bad publicity has made more than one sportswear manufacturer take notice. However the problem is much wider than that and has been brought home more recently by the passing of the modern slavery act in the UK this year which comes into force on October 1st. The government is trying to take steps to ensure that we don’t need news coverage and photos of children working in terrible conditions for businesses to take responsibility for wellbeing.

 At this stage the legislation is for companies to disclose whether or not they have taken steps to ensure that workers are not caught up in modern slavery and what actions they have taken to be confident in their working practices. So what actions can you take? How can you help to provide a great place to work for agency and contracted team members? One thing that leaders in the field of employee engagement might want to consider is to extend their vision to include workers who are employed through an agency or contracted temporarily to their organisation.

  • The opportunity for those workers to contribute to have their own feedback conduit to be able to anonymously report on issues of modern slavery. These could be about freedom to choose jobs and live where they wish rather than to be threatened or forced to do things against their wishes. Empowering those less considered groups in a safe and reprisal free environment could be one of the keys to shining a light on dark practices and on those who look the other way, either by choice, lack of understanding or thoughtlessness.
  • Educating managers and department heads to look out for some of the signs of poor practices, signs within the workforce that everything isn’t as it should be. Empowering those with roles of responsibility to ask the tough questions of suppliers and to hold them to the expected standards will also help to spread awareness and understanding of the ethical stance and credibility of the company.

Things are changing quickly. It was reported in the Guardian recently that several lawsuits were underway against companies caught up with slavery and even in one case the gang masters were the targets of litigation from employees who have been mistreated in this way. Websites have been set up to educate the public about modern slavery and some have gone so far as to encourage members of the public to inform on organisations they believe are using trafficked workers.

This is all wrapped up in some shocking human stories, which bring us all back to why this is an important issue and something that organisations will need to consider when they are publishing their slavery and human trafficking statements.

Are you empowering your wider workforce to help make your organisation one of the best places to work?

At Survey Solutions we help our clients to understand and enhance the wellbeing of their workforce, to deliver on their values and support them on the journey to being the best places to work. We have partnered with a number of companies who have the specific aim of safeguarding against worker exploitation, establishing that their workers are being fairly treated in the workplace and ensuring that they are living up to their ethical promises by empowering individuals to help break any cycle of modern slavery.

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