By Alison Scowen, Senior Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager
It’s tough to imagine a situation where people are being exploited to work long hours, for little or no pay, often through threats of violence or other means of coercion. But the horrifying reality is that modern slavery is happening right here in the UK, right now.
You’ll have seen in our recent One Co-op digi-mag that we’ve been working to tackle the issue, and I’ve been leading our modern slavery campaign. So I’ve pulled together some FAQ’s to update you on our progress so far.
What action is Co-op taking to tackle modern slavery?
Our main responsibility is to make sure that modern slavery has no place in our business. We’re doing everything we can to make sure our supply chains, and everyone who works to produce our goods and services, is treated fairly.
What’s Co-op doing to help victims of modern slavery?
In 2017 we implemented our Bright Future programme with our charity partner City Hearts – offering the opportunity of a paid work placement and a job at Co-op, to those rescued from modern slavery. It’s now grown to include 28 charities and 20 businesses.
What’s Co-op’s responsibility as business?
We have a legal and moral responsibility to champion this movement, and we want to show other businesses how to be responsible through simple, practical actions. 47 other organisations have joined our Bright Future programme, so we’re already making progress.
What action has Co-op taken to get government on board?
When Bright Future began, victims of slavery were entitled to just 45 days of support from the government. We’ve worked with a coalition called ‘Free for Good’, encouraging government to increase that period of time. A Private Members’ Bill was introduced in 2017 which would extend this to a year, and we gave Co-op members the opportunity to show government that they’d back the Bill.
What’s your role in leading the campaign?
My role’s very diverse. To drive and deliver the campaign, I need to have my ear to the ground with what’s happening and make sure opportunities aren’t missed. There’s also lots of planning – like reaching out to academics for research, organising conferences or going out to speak at events on behalf of Co-op.
What’s your proudest achievement?
Our Bright Future programme has a profound effect on people’s lives and that’s truly amazing. At a recent event at Buckingham Palace, Princess Eugenie described our campaign as ‘pretty cool’ in her closing speech!
How do you think Co-op is different?
Co-op leads by example and just gets stuck in. We were brave enough to try something everyone said would be hard. But once we proved it could be done, others followed us.
What changes do you hope to see in the next five years?
I hope we’ll get to a point where every colleague understands what modern slavery is, and feels empowered to take action against it. If change is to happen, everyone must play their part.
How can others get involved?
Everyone can raise awareness. This could mean starting team discussions, raising funds for Anti-Slavery International, or sharing stories with colleagues on Yammer.