The council has adopted a new Modern Slavery policy and endorsed an action plan to help combat the practice in and around South Gloucestershire, making the announcement to mark Anti-Slavery Day, October 18, 2017.
The policy commits the council to training its staff to recognise the signs that people may be subject to slavery conditions and to take steps to ensure that organisations and businesses it deals with are also upholding standards in workforce welfare.
Modern Slavery is described as taking various forms, including slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour and may involve human trafficking; all situations that involve a person’s liberty being controlled by another in order to exploit them for personal or commercial gain.
The policy states that: “The council has a zero-tolerance approach to Modern Slavery and is committed to acting ethically and with integrity in all business dealings and relationships and to implementing and enforcing effective systems and controls to ensure modern slavery is not taking place anywhere in its business or in any of its supply chains.”
Self-assessments of the council’s own performance in raising awareness among staff to identify and support those who may be victims show that progress is being made in delivering the right training, although more work is needed.
The council’s budget for 2017/18 provided £50,000 to help respond to a variety of issues including Anti-Social Behaviour and Modern Slavery. This funding is being used for project work to develop and implement a more consistent and coordinated approach to modern slavery.
Research carried out by the Home Office in 2013 estimates the number of potential victims trafficked into the UK was between 10,000 –13,000 but only 1,746 were referred to national authorities. By 2015 this had risen to 3,266 potential victims being referred.
South Gloucestershire Council’s Community Safety and Safeguarding services have both been involved in the past 18 months in responding to cases involving Modern Slavery, including referring suspected cases to the police and providing support to victims.
Councillor Heather Goddard, Cabinet Member for Tourism and Communities, said: “Modern Slavery is a very serious crime. It is a violation of fundamental human rights with no place in the 21st Century, but the reality is that it still exists. As a council we are committed to playing our part in stamping it out.
“Tackling Modern Slavery is a key priority for the Government and they have placed a duty on councils to report cases. One of the key elements of our Action Plan is to train our staff to spot the signs that it may be taking place. While victims are often controlled to the extent that they are kept away from local services and the help they need, our staff deal with vulnerable people in many situations and so being aware of what to look for could help free people from dire situations.
“We don’t believe that Modern Slavery is widespread in South Gloucestershire, but we tackle this issue jointly across the region and just one individual having their human rights breached in this way is unacceptable, which is why we have adopted this policy.”