Modern day slavery AW article

retailTRUST’s approach to modern slavery

As the largest provider of wellbeing services to grassroots’ retail employees, retailTRUST takes an active part in ensuring that all staff are respected and treated fairly. On behalf of our supporters, the major employers in retail, we take a zero tolerance approach to modern slavery.

Our role is to help retailers root it out of the employee base wherever it may exist – regardless of the number of individuals affected. But, our role goes way beyond that in ensuring that those who are suffering have the opportunity to come forward and seek support in all aspects of their physical, emotional, financial, and vocational wellbeing.

If you believe that any of your colleagues may be victims, please let us know. You will be helping your employer, your colleague, our retail community, and our wider society.

retailTRUST is here to help 24/7, 365 days a year.

No one should be abused in the workplace, and none of our retailers would knowingly allow it to happen. Help us to help them, help you, and help a colleague.

Please contact us at 0808 801 0808, or email us in confidence at [email protected]

Richard Boland - Chief Executive

What is modern slavery?

Retail and its supporting industries are the most affected sectors, with manufacturing particularly vulnerable. It’s estimated that the number of people working for ‘gang-masters’ across all sectors in the UK is in the tens of thousands, so it’s likely that your organisation is affected in some way. Most people are trafficked from overseas, with the most common countries of origin being Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, Romania, and Poland, although it’s important to recognise that there are a number of British nationals who have also been forced into this position.

The good news is that the retail community has been a leading force in tackling the issue with many having already reviewed their staff and supply chain recruitment policies. But, it’s critical that we remain vigilant and consistent in our approach, and this applies to retailers of all sizes.

Retail in particular is at risk of two types of modern slavery:

  • Forced labour – people are forced to work against their will under the threat of some form of punishment from a gang-master.
  • Bonded labour – the most common form in retail, people borrow money from gang-masters for their travel to the UK which they cannot repay without working against their will.

We all have a legal duty to report any suspicions, and Modern Slavery Act 2015 is in place to ensure that employers meet their duty of care and the appropriate authorities can take immediate action against gang-masters.

How can I tell if someone is a victim of modern slavery?

You may notice a colleague who:

  • Appears isolated and doesn’t socialise with anyone at work
  • Behaves as if they are suspicious when anyone tries to talk to them
  • Consistently looks tired, ill, malnourished, and/or unkempt
  • Is dropped off and collected from work in pairs or groups by someone who doesn’t work for your organisation
  • Limits their exposure to common areas such as the canteen
  • Doesn’t participate in ‘office banter’
  • Appears sad, anxious, hyper-vigilant, or otherwise not coping well
  • Displays signs of physical abuse
  • Appears to be in a rush to meet someone in the parking lot after work
  • Doesn’t have a mobile phone
  • Doesn’t share information with others of a personal nature.

If you’re an employer, you might also find that the person:

  • Is vague about their previous work experience
  • Asks for more shifts than is common or legal
  • Doesn’t carry personal identification (it’s likely to have been taken from them by the gang-master)
  • Isn’t clear about their immigration status, or uses terms which are incorrect
  • Doesn’t take annual leave even when reminded that they have that right
  • Has an exemplary attendance record, coming to work even when very ill.

What should retailers do?

If you’re a staff member

It’s important not to talk directly about modern slavery with anyone you have concerns about. This can put the colleague at risk of harm and harassment by their gang-master. Instead, speak to your HR department in confidence. They can access help from external authorities who know how to check on the colleague’s wellbeing, and will take the action.

If you’re an employer

Review your supply chain

The longer your supply chain, the greater the chances that someone is being exploited. Make sure you can account for every step of the process – and know exactly who is providing your goods and services. In addition, let every company you do business with know that any form of exploitation is unacceptable and you will report it to the appropriate authorities.

Recruitment

  • Only use reputable recruitment agencies and ensure that all your staff can legally work in the UK
  • Ensure that all staff have a written contract of employment and haven’t had to pay any fees to obtain work
  • Check the names and addresses of staff. If there are a number of people listed at the same address, it may indicate high shared occupancy which is often a factor for those being exploited.

Education and policies

Ensure that you have a clear policy which addresses modern slavery. This should form part of your staff handbook so that all colleagues are very clear on the signs to look for, and what to do if they suspect a colleague needs help. It’s also important to appoint someone in your organisation who will establish a clear chain of command when suspicions are reported.

How to report modern slavery in your workplace

Please contact retailTRUST to speak in confidence about your concerns – we are available 24/7, 365 days a year. Employers can also directly contact the Modern Slavery Helpline which offers telephone guidance and advice, along with an online reporting form. All queries are confidential and you can find these resources at https://www.modernslaveryhelpline.org