18 October 2019

Need for vigilance in fight against modern slavery

Jacqueline O’Donovan, managing director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal raises awareness for the need to be vigilant for acts of modern day slavery in SMEs as Anti-Slavery Day is marked on the 18th October.

OPINION: A subject that we are hearing more and more about is modern day slavery.  It is easy to think that this is someone else’s problem and that it only happens in other industries, but the reality is that it is something that we all need to be concerned about as it is becoming more and more prevalent in the waste industry in the UK.

Modern Slavery is a hidden crime where people are exploited and forced to work whilst being controlled by someone else, using them for criminal and financial gain.  If you are being offered a service for a lot less than you would expect to pay for it and it seems too cheap to be true, someone is possibly being taken advantage of.  Labour exploitation is the most common type of modern slavery.  According to the Home Office’s most recent figures, there were an estimated 40 million people in slavery globally in 2016 and 10,000 –13,000 potential victims in the UK, but many victims are not identified or reported.  However, in August 2017, the National Crime Agency (NCA) suggested that figure was too low and that there are actually ‘tens of thousands’ of victims.  In 2017 alone, over 5,000 people were referred to British authorities as potential victims of slavery – this is up one third from 2016.

Under the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act, all companies with over £36m in annual turnover conducting business in the UK are required to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement.  But what about SMEs and those under that threshold?  It begs the questions, are companies of our size or smaller, targeted by criminals and people-traffickers because there is a of a lack of awareness and guidelines?  In a culture where temporary work is available and language can be a barrier with English often being a second language, this can be a high-risk factor for workers.

If there was a better understanding of the indicators of exploitation and ways to respond to identify and prevent slavery ,not only in our own companies but in our supply chain, it would be a big step forward in raising awareness and preventing it from happening.  The Anti-slavery.org website gives some good indicators about how to spot the signs and is a great place to start.

“I would urge others in the waste sector to consider improving and assessing their practices to help try to stamp out this immoral activity.”

Jacqueline O’Donovan

In bid to raise awareness, we are publishing our own Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking statement voluntarily and issuing every member of our team with a handout highlighting what to look out for and what to do if slavery is suspected.  It is a small step but raising awareness is crucial.  We are also donating our used mobile phones to the anti-slavery charity Unseen which helps survivors get back on their feet and rebuild their lives and supplies phones to enable contact with their family and friends.

I would urge others in the waste sector to consider improving and assessing their practices to help try to stamp out this immoral activity and ensure that everyone in our industry is treated with dignity and respect.  Better understanding of the current situation and the best ways to respond will help change the landscape of modern-slavery activity in the UK, by increasing prosecutions, deterring traffickers and supporting survivors.


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