Last week I was invited to speak at a United Nations conference in New York, about what we’re doing to support victims of slavery and prevent the risk of slavery in our business and supply chains.

Organised by UN Women, the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, and Shiva Foundation, over 30 organisations were there – from NGOs, to businesses like ourselves and Mars, and Governments from around the world.

What was really remarkable was the number of people from across the globe who’d heard about the Co-op. Project Bright Future was held up as a model of how responsible business can tackle slavery in the 21st century –  a huge challenge when there are 40 million people in slavery worldwide, more than at any other time in history.

I knew back in November, when our Co-op became only the sixth business worldwide (and the only British one) – to be given the Thomson Reuters Stop Slavery Award, that we were taking a global leadership position on the issue.

But it was while I sat in the UN Women HQ explaining Bright Future, and agreeing to help other organisations who want to do something similar in other parts of the world that I really appreciated what groundbreaking work we’re doing.

As I headed back to the airport I passed a bus stop on Madison Avenue which had signs for ‘Co-op City’ and ‘Rochdale Village’. Apparently, it’s the world’s biggest housing co-operative in the northern Bronx. It was another reminder of how the co-operative movement that started in 1844 is embraced across the world.

Paul Gerrard
Policy and Campaigns Director

Join the conversation! 23 Comments

  1. Great to take our message to the UN. From our history we know slavery is something Co-operators fought against in the past. It’s our generation’s job to make modern slavery history and ensure that we wipe it from the face of the planet.

  2. Is there any way staff can get involved in Bright Future in a voluntary capacity?

    • Hi Ruby,
      Great to hear you want to get involved, but unfortunately Bright Future isn’t set up for volunteers. The team’s very small and only works with relevant charities. This is so those placed with us can feel safe, knowing their identities are protected by just a few people.
      One way everyone can help though is to spread the word about the ‘Free for Good’ campaign. It asks the Government to give slavery survivors support for one year, rather than just 45 days. You can send a letter to your MP here – http://freeforgood.org.uk/
      ^Lara

    • Ruby,

      to build on Lara’s answer…

      I would really encourage you to sign the petition because our learning as a business from supporting victims is that Government need to do more; to give you one example, one individual who has been through Bright Future was enslaved for almost 35 years in domestic servitude from the age of 5 to 40. On rescue she was entitled to just 45 days support from Government – that cannot be right.

      The other way to help is to find a local charity who support modern slavery victims and offer to volunteer for them; they are so inspirational but always need extra help.

      Best wishes

      Paul

  3. Well done Coop for tackling a real problem in the world, what defines someone as a slave? How do we monitor/vet it?

    • Hi Carl,
      Bright Future is a partnership and we work with the police, Anti-Slavery Commissioner, charities and Government agencies.
      There’s a legal definition of slavery and when people come to us they’ve already been supported by other agencies (usually the police, social services and the courts), who rescued them from slavery. Our role isn’t to vet them – it’s to help them get back on their feet.
      ^Lara

  4. This could become a more important issue depending on what happens with Brexit.

    How so?

    Well, because tighter immigration controls typically provide a more fertile context for illegal trafficking, not a less fertile one. Traffickers like border controls because they provide a demand for their services.

    • Don’t most people who are victims of trafficking come from outside the EU?

      • The three most frequent nationalities of those rescued from slavery in the UK – (last year 4,000+) were Vietnamese, Albanian and British.

        The impact of Brexit will depend on what it looks like but we should watch for any impact on the ability of law enforcement to work internationally, and if there is a tight labour market which will create ‘favourable’ conditions for those who can ‘supply’ illegal, slave labour.

        Paul

  5. Wow..great work and big respect for speaking on behalf of the coop !!

  6. Great post! Well done Paul!

  7. Sounds like great work. Do we do anything to help the victims of slavery in the UK too like helping them find a job in the Co-op or with rehabilitation?

  8. This is amazing, well done!

    • Emma

      thank you – we should all be very proud of what we as a co-op have done here and we are leading the world on how businesses use their assets to transform the recovery of victims.

      Paul

  9. Well Done Paul. I know we’ve talked about this “privately”, and you know how proud I am for the little I’ve managed to do to assist the Coop in the battle against slavery. We (the Coop and everybody) have to talk about this – I know that we have to keep the identities of these poor people “quiet”, as they still feel at risk, but we must shout about modern slavery (let’s face it, it’s the same thing as old slavery, with a “new image”) and get other companies and everybody talking about it to put a stop to it, or make it so difficult for the people smugglers, etc who practice this evil business to be able to continue, and put those that do in jail, and free the slaves, and more importantly, give them proper jobs.

    All power to the Coop.

    • Anthony

      thanks and your role in helping these people recover the control stolen from them by traffickers is appreciated.

      Research we did last year says 1in 5 have never heard of slavery and those that say they have 40% don’t know where it happens or what it is. So much more to do but watch this space…..!

      Paul

  10. Well Done Mr. Gerrard and Our Coop for such a groundbreaking effort of such a Global Problem.
    A journey of a 1000 miles begins with the First Step!
    One small step for man- One Giant Leap for Mankind.
    Cribbed but so appropriate.
    March on The Cooperative!

    • Fred

      thank you – the Co-op was about pioneers back in Rochdale in 1844 and I feel we can look our founders in the eye on this issue and say, yes we pioneered too.

      Paul

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