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March 17, 2021

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modern slavery

Unseen and Alcumus unite to help eradicate modern slavery from supply chains

UK-based anti-slavery charity Unseen has formed a new partnership with Alcumus to help increase awareness of the role of accreditation and digital solutions in demonstrating that an organisation is ethical, compliant and transparent.

Founded in 2008, Unseen launched the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline in 2016 and provides safehouses and services for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking. The charity works closely with the police, health workers, government, businesses and organisations to help prevent modern slavery. In its 2020 release of helpline insights, highlighting the nature and scale of labour abuse in the UK, 49% of reports to Unseen concerned labour exploitation, with 1,812 cases of modern slavery raised through calls to the helpline.

The partnership will help to increase awareness of the role of accreditation and digital solutions in demonstrating that an organisation is ethical, compliant and transparent. For over 20 years, Alcumus has helped businesses to strengthen controls over their supply chain and make sure suppliers are safe to partner with. Clients use its online contractor management platform to drive better standards and greater visibility throughout supply chains, as well as access support on modern slavery statements, policies and procedures.

“We’re delighted to be working with Unseen to significantly increase awareness of unacceptable human rights violations,” says Gemma Archibald, Chief Operating Officer, SME at Alcumus. “Unseen is a leader in the fight against forced labour and their work is hugely important in supporting victims and survivors and strengthening the laws around modern slavery in the supply chain.

“Businesses, large and small, need to take action to act responsibly and eradicate unethical practices and forced labour in their supply chain. A zero tolerance approach against modern slavery is vital so that any risks of exploitation don’t go undetected and to prevent slavery happening in the first place.”

Andrew Wallis, OBE, CEO of Unseen and Co-Chair of the Home Office Modern Slavery Strategy and Implementation Group – Transparency in Supply Chains said: “Alcumus’ insights will help Unseen further our work to raise awareness and effectively tackle modern slavery in supply chains and business practices. Our collective experience and first-hand knowledge of forced labour will be invaluable to those organisations who want to act responsibly and combat the exploitation of innocent people.

“It’s essential we have a comprehensive approach to tackling forced labour in businesses and supply chains. That means a fundamental change in approach – addressing the root causes of modern slavery. The way businesses can do this is by demonstrating that they’re compliant, ethical, sustainable and managing the risks of vulnerability to exploitation.  With the power of technology, data and responsible business practices, we can enable worker voices to be heard much more easily. And this will only help us in our mission to end slavery for good.”

Since the Modern Slavery Act came into force in 2015, the number of victims identified has grown year on year as a greater focus is given to uncovering incidence of modern slavery. Because of its hidden nature, there is no definitive source of data to accurately quantify the number of victims of modern slavery in the UK. The International Labour Organization currently estimates that there are 24.9 million victims of modern-day slavery or forced labour globally and the Walk Free Foundation has estimated the number of victims of modern slavery in the UK at 136,000.

On Wednesday 17 March, a House of Commons select committee warned that companies in the UK “still cannot guarantee that their supply chains are free from forced labour” from the Uighur people in Xinjiang in China.

CHAS partners with University of Nottingham Rights Lab to tackle modern slavery in construction supply chains

In related news, CHAS, the supply chain risk management expert, has partnered with the University of Nottingham Rights Lab to undertake a research project around the risk of modern slavery within construction supply chains, with a focus on small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

The project, which began at the start of April 2021, will assess the risk of modern slavery in construction supply chains and seek to establish how construction businesses can effectively tackle the issue.

Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, there is no legal requirement for businesses with a turnover of less than £36m to publish a statement regarding how they are addressing the risk of modern slavery. However, many construction SMEs are asked by their supply chains to provide evidence that they are tackling the issue.

Through their collaboration with the Rights Lab, CHAS will establish a range of tools and resources to help construction SMEs take positive action to manage, mitigate and eliminate the risk of modern slavery and labour exploitation in the construction supply chain.

With 99% of private businesses in the UK made up of SMEs, nearly a fifth of which operate in the construction sector, supporting SMEs in effectively managing this issue has the potential to greatly improve the UK’s record in tackling modern slavery.

Commenting on the partnership, Dr Akilah Jardine, Research Fellow at the Rights Lab, says: “We are thrilled to collaborate with CHAS on this important piece of work. Together we hope to progress understanding of SME engagement with the anti-slavery agenda, including opportunities and challenges to engaging smaller businesses, and develop tailored guidance to support their members in tackling modern slavery.”

Gareth Rondel, Sustainable Business Lead at CHAS comments: “We know that collaboration is often the key to progress in the construction industry so we are extremely pleased to be undertaking this research project with an organisation as well-respected as the University of Nottingham Rights Lab. We are looking forward to working together to help businesses better manage this issue and we are hopeful our work will have a significant impact on reducing modern slavery and human rights abuse within construction supply chains.”

Frank Hanson, Head of Prevention and Partnerships at the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), adds: “We welcome the research collaboration between CHAS and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab to identify both the opportunities and barriers around the role SMEs can play to help prevent labour exploitation and modern slavery in the construction industry. SMEs are uniquely placed to be the eyes and ears of what is happening on construction sites up and down the country and can play a vital role in keeping workers safe.”

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