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UK Government Must Back New Bill to Support Victims of Modern Slavery, Says Co-op CEO

By Steve Murrells, CEO of the Co-op

Have you ever sat watching your car get washed and stopped to wonder about the person who's holding the sponge? 

I was humbled to recently hear from a survivor of modern slavery who'd come to the UK hoping to make money to send back to his ill mother, only to end up being forced to open bank accounts for money laundering and work at a London car wash without pay.

Thankfully, he managed to escape to a safe house where he was referred to Bright Future, the Co-op’s pathway to employment for victims of slavery. He’s been working at the Co-op ever since and most importantly is living in the UK safely and happily.  

His story was in my mind as I addressed Home Office ministers and chief executives of some of the UK's largest businesses in parliament on Monday morning. It’s unacceptable that thousands people in the UK are still forced to work and live in conditions of modern slavery. 

Take Action: No Human Should Be Bought or Sold. Ask the UK to Give More Support to Victims of Modern Slavery

The Modern Slavery Act passed in 2015 requires UK businesses to report on what actions they have taken to ensure that there is no slavery or human trafficking in their business or supply chain. 

This is a positive change, but it can only be a first step; what must accompany it is action to support the victims.  

At the Co-op we're going further than the legislation. Supported by City Hearts, a charity dedicated to helping victims of modern slavery, we created the Bright Future programme — giving survivors of modern slavery a chance to rebuild their lives through a four-week paid work placement, within the Co-op’s food business, followed by a non-competitive interview, and potentially a permanent job. 

Read more: More People Than Ever Before Are at Risk From Slavery in the UK

Bright Future makes a real difference to the lives of incredibly vulnerable people, so I’m delighted that more than 10 other companies, including John Lewis, Dixons Carphone, the Body Shop, and the construction company Marshalls Plc, have now signed up to it.  

I want these new signatories to just be the start. The more companies that sign up, the bigger the difference that can be made.  

Business can offer solutions, but the government must play its part to support victims as well. 

Last year, the House of Commons work and pensions committee noted the “inexcusable” lack of support for victims of modern slavery. This can’t be allowed to continue. 

Read more: The 9 Warning Signs That Modern Slaves Are Hidden in 'Plain Sight'

The government must back Lord McColl's modern slavery victim support bill, which will guarantee people's right to support after being found to be a victim of modern slavery. That would include the right to remain in the UK for a 12-month period, providing survivors with a vital safety net, and giving them an opportunity to put their life back together. 

The bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons in November, but without backing from the government it will never become law.   

Awareness is also vital for combating modern slavery. Whether it's a car wash, nail salon, or local restaurant, conditions of modern slavery are often hidden in plain sight. 

Read more: UK Nurse Forced Women to Undergo 'Black Magic' Rituals in Landmark Modern Slavery Case

We all must be alert to the potential that in our everyday lives we may be interacting with people working and living in conditions of modern slavery and, where we suspect it, we must report it. 

As a country we have made substantial progress to combat modern slavery but, for the sake of those who still need help, we cannot stand still. It's incumbent on all of us to do what we can to finally consign slavery to history. 

Global Citizen has partnered with Co-op to help change the law to ensure that modern slavery victims are given the support they need to help get their lives back on track. You can join us by taking action here