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modern slavery

Modern Slavery in the Workplace

During the 18th century, a brutal trade network emerged, forcibly transporting Africans who had been abducted to European colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean, where they were enslaved on plantations. In 1787, prominent abolitionists like Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp came together to establish the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Their conviction was rooted in the belief that ending this trademarked the crucial initial stride toward the total eradication of slavery. 

Within the halls of Parliament, the vanguard of this movement was led by William Wilberforce. Only after numerous unsuccessful endeavours did the British Empire finally abolish the slave trade in 1807. However, it wasn’t until 1838 that enslaved individuals in the colonies (excluding regions under the rule of the East India Company) gained their freedom—albeit under the condition that compensation was directed to slave owners rather than the enslaved themselves. 

The persistence of this issue is evidenced by the Modern Slavery Bill, underscoring its continued relevance in contemporary times.  

What is modern slavery? 

 Various nations employ varying legal jargon, but the concept of “modern slavery” encompasses criminal acts such as human trafficking, slavery, and practices akin to slavery, such as servitude, coerced labour, forced or coerced marriages, the trafficking and exploitation of minors, and debt servitude. 

For the context of the Modern Slavery Act of 2015, the term ‘modern slavery’ entails the following definitions: 

  • ‘Slavery’ denotes the exertion of ownership over an individual. 
  • ‘Servitude’ involves compelling an individual to provide services through coercion. 
  • ‘Forced or compulsory labour’ pertains to work, or services extracted from an individual under the threat of penalty, without their voluntary consent. 
  • ‘Human trafficking’ concerns arranging or facilitating the transportation of another person with the intention of exploiting them. 
Does slavery exist in the UK? 

Modern slavery is increasing in the UK. The British Government approximates that tens of thousands of people are currently trapped in situations of modern exploitation within the country. 

While many individuals are trafficked into the UK from foreign countries, a considerable number of British citizens also fall victim to exploitation. Frequently, people are coerced into forced labour in sectors like agriculture, construction, hospitality, manufacturing, and car washes. Additionally, numerous women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation or domestic servitude. Others, especially children, are coerced into criminal activities like cannabis cultivation, minor theft, or begging. 

Ensuring Compliance with Employment law 

To guarantee adherence to employment laws, your business must have updated policies in place for: 

  • Whistleblowing: Establish a policy that encourages employees, clients, and business associates to report concerns, ensuring that employees feel comfortable raising issues without fear of reprisal. 
  • Recruitment: Implement a rigorous recruitment policy that verifies the eligibility of workers for employment within the UK. 
  • Employee or Company Code of Conduct: Outline the expectations for your organisation, employees, and suppliers in terms of ethical standards. 
  • Equality and Diversity: Strive to provide equal opportunities and fair treatment for all individuals. 
  • Corporate Social Responsibility: Summarise your approach to managing environmental impacts and responsible collaboration with suppliers and local communities. 
How can we help? 

If you are an employer and in doubt as to whether your policies cover anti-slavery legislation, contact our Employment Department for advice. 


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