HR has a big role to play in stamping out modern slavery

By monitoring external agencies and verifying pre-employment checks, businesses can ensure people traffickers don’t infiltrate their workforce operations, says Marc Stanton

Recruitment is repeatedly cited as one of the major challenges for HR professionals. Candidate selection is a vastly laborious endeavour, and not always rewarding; long recruitment processes and multiple interviews still do not guarantee a stellar appointment. Even if a superstar candidate is found, the time-eating process can extend into negotiations, with the acceptance of an offer unassured. 

For a permanent, esteemed position, it’s easier to justify the prioritisation of this process. In high-turnover, temporary roles, the same process is more often met with disdain – an arduous necessity to enable the smooth running of everyday operations. This reticence is frequently alleviated through the use of outsourced agencies. And relax, thinks the HR professional, as the dreaded issue is taken off their hands, pushing innumerable other supposedly more important items up their to-do list. This is one of the most likely ways that your organisation could end up unwittingly employing a modern slave, as demonstrated in the UK’s largest modern slavery bust in history: Operation Fort.

HR professionals have a key role in the lines of defence against modern slavery. The most prevalent form of corporate modern slavery is forced labour, with 130,000 people thought to be trapped in the practice in the UK alone. Forced labour occurs when victims are put to work against their will without any other option. Organised criminals target the vulnerable, enticing them with offers of food, safety, accommodation and paid work. This never materialises; on arrival in the UK, identity documents are confiscated and, instead of the promising life their captors promised, victims are forced to live in over-occupied, cramped conditions, with no hygiene facilities and only soiled mattresses for comfort while controllers take their pay. 

Gangmasters carefully target specific sectors and roles that are more likely to accept their victim as an employee. Low-skilled, undesirable jobs in industries including construction, agriculture, logistics and waste management are prime examples, but not exhaustive. For cunning criminals, where there’s a weakness, there’s a way. Although your business may not be one of the highest risks, it’s likely traffickers could infiltrate the wider supply chain; more than three-quarters of companies suspect modern slavery within their operations or supply chain, which is a statistic too prolific to ignore. 

The first step HR can take in modern slavery prevention is not to completely wash their hands of high-turnover recruitment through the use of outsourced agencies. Ensuring all the relevant pre-employment checks are double checked internally, verified in accordance with company policy and legislation as well as cross checked for anomalies is essential. Warning signs include numerous employees registered to the same address, or the inability to produce original identity documents on demand. 

HR departments must champion awareness of modern slavery across the board. Initiating awareness literature and putting together training modules for employees of all levels is a great place to start. For those with a turnover in excess of 36 million that are obliged to compile a modern slavery statement, taking it as an opportunity to demonstrate and follow through with a real commitment to anti-slavery strategy with future-facing actions rather than a compliance piece is strongly recommended.

Taking the lead on such an expansive and abhorrent human rights issue can be overwhelming if tackled alone. By collaborating with a specialist organisation, you’ll gain access to unrivalled services delivered by crime prevention experts. Business services include site assessments, gap analysis, crisis response, proactive investigation, bespoke training, online resources, technical consultation and peer-to-peer learning events, all designed to safeguard your organisation. Don’t be passive in modern slavery prevention – take action today to ensure freedom for all. 

Marc Stanton is director of the Slave-Free Alliance