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This morning I met with Victoria Atkins from the Home Office at the Business Against Slavery Forum to tell her that it’s unacceptable that thousands of people in the UK are still forced to work and live in conditions of modern slavery.

A story I heard first-hand from a victim of slavery forced into opening bank accounts for money laundering when working at a London car wash, was firmly in my mind during my discussion with Victoria from the Home Office. Thankfully, this person is one of the lucky ones, they managed to escape and now works at our Co-op thanks to our Bright Future programme.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 mandated that UK businesses must report on what actions they have taken to ensure there is no slavery or human trafficking in their business or supply chain. This was a positive step and was a catalyst for change, but it was only the first step.

Now we must turn our attention to supporting survivors of modern slavery too.

A Bright Future for survivors of modern slavery

Our Co-op isn’t just playing lip service to legislation. Supported by City Hearts, we went one step further and created the Bright Future programme, which offers the opportunity of a paid work placement and a job in our food business to those who have been rescued from modern slavery.

Already more than 50 vulnerable survivors of modern slavery are being given a chance to rebuild their lives through Bright Future and it’s envisaged that up to 300 will secure placements through by 2020 thanks to 11 other businesses signing up to our Bright Future programme.

The John Lewis Partnership is the latest household name to pledge to provide employment for people rescued from enslavement under our Bright Future programme. They join others such as Dixon Carphone, The Body Shop and construction company Marshalls Plc.

I want this to just be the start. We need more businesses to sign up, so more people can be helped and a bigger difference can be made.

The Government needs to offer more support

Businesses like ours can offer solutions, but the Government must play its part to support victims as well.

The Government must back Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery Victim Support Bill which increases the level of support for victims of modern slavery from 45 days to 12 months, 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 be become law.

As a country we have made substantial progress to combat modern slavery, but we cannot standstill. Today’s Business Against Slavery Forum underlined that only through business and Government co-operation, with increased commitments and support, will slavery be consigned to history.

The Co-op and our partners are doing our part, it’s time for others to do theirs as well.

Steve Murrells
Co-op Group CEO

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