Modern Day Slavery - Is it closer to home than we realise?

Slavery – it’s a word that we hear so often. It conjures images and pre-conceptions in our minds, but what is it really? And is it only happening “somewhere else”?

Despite being prohibited not long after the Second World War, people are still being forced to work through mental or physical threat because they are seen as easy targets or were born into the ‘wrong’ class. Adults, as well as children, are being forced to work in conditions posing a risk to their health or welfare.

Is this really where slavery begins and ends, or are well hidden, well-disguised traces of these acts happening under our noses? Are they taking place within the organisations in which we work, being passed off as the ‘culture’ of the business, making us the victims of slavery as a management practice?

We may not be forced into situations as extreme as sexual acts, or physically restrained so that we are unable to leave our workplace, but what about the long hours we’re working, the extreme workloads we’re taking on, all done as a desperate attempt to avoid under performance. Is the fear of not committing to the ‘work hard and be successful’ culture all a ruse to get the maximum value for money out of us, without taking into account the mental pressures and strains it creates?

Professors Andrew Crane and George R Garniner, the authors of research entitled “Modern Slavery as a Management Practice” say, ‘Slavery, depends on a duality of factors. At a macro level, the right conditions need to be in place: industrial (e.g. demand elasticity and labour intensity), socio-economic (e.g. poverty and unemployment), geographic (e.g. physical g isolation), cultural (e.g. tradition and religion); and regulatory (e.g. weak governance). Such conditions make some industries particularly vulnerable to slavery.’

Obviously we cannot truly liken the typical type of modern slavery (forced labour, dangerous working conditions, human trafficking etc.) to modern workplaces with a business culture that can be mentally and occasionally physically draining, no matter how depleted we can feel, but it’s still an important matter to start thinking about. Are we in some way, ‘victims’ of a form of modern slavery? Is this type of business culture acceptable? Do you work in an environment like this?

In situations of typical slavery, there is existing good work going on to overcome these issues across the globe. For example International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and recommendations, and here in the UK, the Modern Slavery Act which came into force last year, which requires large organisations to state what actions they are taking to illuminate and prevent modern slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains.

So what can we be doing to ensure that our hard work and efforts are channelled positively, and not exploited by the bigger management machine? Here at Responsible Trade Worldwide, we believe the best way of looking at the true culture of an organisation, whether it be a supply chain or a corporate environment, is by harnessing the collective worker voice, and identifying the issues and opportunities before it’s too late.

What is your view? Feel free to comment on our blog, share your thoughts or contact us at info@responsibletradeworldwide.com.