Bristol at the centre of efforts to tackle modern slavery

Kye Parkin
Communications Executive | Business West
10th February 2017

In 2015, the then Home Secretary Theresa May introduced the Modern Slavery Act to enhance police and CPS powers to tackle a vast swathe of offences related to human trafficking and exploitation.

One year on from gaining Royal Assent, over 200 people had been successfully prosecuted under the Act, who had it not been in place, would otherwise have walked free, due to the often hidden nature of this appalling set of crimes.

Unlikely as it may seem, the Modern Slavery Act didn’t begin life in Westminster’s corridors of power, but 120 miles away in the City of Bristol after a chance discovery prompted Andrew Wallis to contact his local police force to see what measures they had in place to combat slavery.

After a full and frank discussion with a high-ranking police official, Andrew was shocked to discover a series of legal loopholes meant that the authorities were almost powerless to do anything about it.

Having made a pact to do more and tackle these horrendous crimes, Andrew set up a safehouse to help the victims of modern slavery get their lives back on track. After several months running the safe house, Andrew soon began to realise that modern slavery is a problem that spreads far wider than he ever realised, and that charities such as his own were effectively giving a free pass to criminals if they do not tackle the root cause of the problem.

While any lesser mortal might have been perturbed by the mammoth task of lobbying government reform, former retail executive Andrew managed to do just that by authoring the Centre for Social Justice report that ultimately lead to the bill’s passing in Parliament.

Ten years on from when it first started, Andrew’s charity Unseen has gone from strength to strength, and today sits at the centre of a hive of activity in the city to stamp out modern slavery for good.

If evidence were needed of Bristol’s characteristically independent approach to social reform it is the issue of modern slavery.

A tight knit group of activists plucked from all different walks of life have established Bristol at the forefront of change - each of whom were assembled by the West of England Initiative (part of Business West) to educate and inform business leaders on how to stamp out modern slavery in their supply chains.

In  a city with as strong a social conscience as Bristol, it came  as no surprise that Bristol City Council was one the first local authorities in the UK to establish a task force to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery. Councillor Campion-Smith, who chairs the City Office’s Cabinet Member for People, kicked off proceedings by giving a detailed account of how the Council has managed to ensure transparency in it supply chains despite its £3bn annual budget.

Justine Currell, Executive Director of Unseen then took to the stage.  Her message was loud and clear: that modern slavery is business’s responsibility. A matter made even more prescient by a new set of rules that requires companies whose yearly revenue exceeds £32m to file an annual report at board level detailing how they are getting to grips with the issue.

Tesco’s Responsible Sourcing Director Giles Bolton gave an engaging account of how Britain’s largest retailer is taking steps to eradicate modern slavery across an inventory that exceeds 30,000 products.

Hosts on the night, Veale Wasbrough Vizards, offered practical advice on how to comply with transparency in supply chains legislation.

TISC Report’s Jaya Chakrabarti shared how she is helping businesses to build truly transparent supply chains by providing the practical tools to meet this challenge head on.

Speaking about the event, Amie Vaughan, Initiative Manager at Business West, commented:

“The progress that Unseen, and individuals such as Jaya have made, in pushing what is so often a hidden issue high up the political and business agenda in a short space of time, is an inspiration to us all.

“In my role I know that the local business community, like so many of us, have lacked awareness of modern slavery until very recently, thanks in no small part to Unseen.

“When Andrew and Justine approached the Initiative to help get the message out about transparency in supply chains, I felt privileged to be able to call upon a strong local business community to show support.”

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