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M&S, Waitrose Among UK Retailers Working ‘Stronger Together’ to Fight Forced Labor

The Stronger Together website features a video depicting the real-life experiences of two workers who found themselves trapped in forced-labor situations in the UK. | Image credit: Stronger Together

Leading organisations and industry bodies within UK food production, retail and horticulture have joined forces to tackle the issue of modern-day slavery, human trafficking, forced labor and other hidden migrant worker exploitation, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Launched last week, the "Stronger Together" initiative is designed to equip UK employers with the knowledge and resource to recognise the signs of exploitation and to tackle it in the food and agriculture industries. Sponsored by the Co-operative Food, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose, it was developed by the Association of Labour Providers (ALP), the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) and Migrant Help.

The Global Slavery Index 2013, launched last week, estimates that there are now as many as 29.8 million people in modern slavery globally, including those forced to work through trafficking, debt bondage, forced marriage or intimidation. The Index estimates that there are at least 4,200 modern slaves in the UK alone, with particular prevalence in the agricultural/food and construction sectors.

As part of Stronger Together, employers and labor providers will be able to access a range of free resources to help them deter, identify and tackle worker exploitation. These materials, which include best-practice guidance and a toolkit containing multi-language workplace posters and worker leaflets, will be available through the Stronger Together website.

In addition to the online resources, there will also be a series of interactive workshops held across the UK to further help the food industry understand their responsibilities and the best practices associated with tackling hidden labor exploitation in the workplace. The aim is to engage over 1000 farms, food producers and labor providers who in turn will reach more than 100,000 workers.

David Camp, Director of the Association of Labour Providers, said: "The Stronger Together tools and workshops will enable us to engage with the industry and work together to tackle this evil within our society. Although we've set up this initiative to target hidden labour exploitation in the food and agriculture industries, we look forward to sharing the good practice developed with other industry sectors facing similar issues."

As stakeholders in the food supply chain learn how to identify (and report) the signs of abuse and exploitation, enforcement bodies such as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority will have greater access to better quality intelligence. Paul Broadbent, GLA Chief Executive, said: "Stronger Together will help us to work more closely with industry to prevent exploitation by the early identification of the signs that a worker or workers are being abused so that the criminals can be exposed and dealt with by the GLA."

The BRC, along with industry partners and organizations such as Anti-Slavery International, the British Growers Association, Crimestoppers and the Food and Drink Federation, are also supporting the Stronger Together initiative.

"The Stronger Together project is a shining example of organisations across the UK food industry teaming up to tackle human trafficking and forced labour,” said Helen Dickinson, Director General of the BRC. “UK retailers are committed to addressing the issue through joint working with the GLA, law enforcement agencies and farmers. There is no place for exploitation in our supply chains."

Robert McCrea, Chief Executive of Migrant Help, said: "Human trafficking is a form of slavery and it is happening here in our local communities. It is everybody's responsibility to ensure that this abominable crime cannot continue to flourish, the traffickers are brought to justice and the victims supported to the highest standard possible. This is why we are stronger together."

Brands and retailers are joining forces to eradicate forced labor in other countries and industries, as well, Earlier this month, the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) announced that 136 international brands and retailers, representing over US$1T in revenue, have signed RSN’s "Company Pledge Against Forced Child and Adult Labor in Uzbek Cotton," refusing to source from Uzbekistan until it ceases the forced labor of children and adults in its cotton fields.

SB Issues in Focus For more examples of groundbreaking cross-sector partnerships driving social and environmental change, check out our Issue in Focus highlighting #Collaboration.
SB Issues in Focus To learn more about how companies worldwide are cleaning up their #supplychains, check out our Issue in Focus.

Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]