person holding white sewing machine
Photo by Jose P. Ortiz on Unsplash

During the recent political turmoil, the Government has taken the decision to ‘reclassify’ modern slavery as an illegal immigration and asylum issue – removing it from its place under the safeguarding minister. This harmful decision was taken by the returning Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, under the pretence that the current system of safeguarding is being abused by those claiming modern slavery when seeking asylum. This decision threatens the recent progress which has been made in anti-modern slavery legislation – a backstep which threatens years of advocacy by campaigners, human rights organisations and the co-operative movement.

The co-operative movement has been a committed advocate for ending the scourge of modern slavery. Co-operative societies across the UK have been leading work in raising awareness of this vital issue, which effects up to 136,000 people in the UK and 50 million globally. These shocking statistics reinforce the need for the co-operative sector’s leading work on raising awareness of modern slavery and helping victims rebuild their lives. The Co-op Group’s Bright Future’s programme, which has been supported by several co-operative societies, was launched in 2017 to provide work opportunities to those who have survived modern slavery. Building on this work, the Co-operative Party has been active on modern slavery in local government, with our Labour & Co-operative Councillors working to sign up over 120 councils to the Modern Slavery Charter. This Charter commits councils to remove exploitation and modern slavery for their supply chains – implementing assessments and checks to ensure compliance.

The Co-operative Party will not stand by as the Government threatens to undo years of progress on ending the evil of modern slavery. With a new Anti-Modern Slavery Bill announced earlier in the year in the Queen’s Speech, the Co-operative Party is calling for strengthened legislation which protects victims and increases safeguarding. The new Bill must extend Section 54 – which commits organisations to report on modern slavery in their organisation and supply chain – to public bodies over £36m turnover. Compliance by private sector organisations must also be strengthened, with financial penalties enforced for failing to provide a modern slavery statement. The Government should bring this Bill forward at the earliest opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to tackling the scourge of modern slavery in light of the ‘reclassification’.

The Co-operative Party will continue to ensure this issue is kept at the front of national debate. We must do more to ensure we end modern slavery in all its guises, so that no-one else has to suffer this terrible evil.