Falkirk MP’s anti-slavery pressure pays off

Men, women and children are forced into slavery to make goods for the UK's retail market. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Men, women and children are forced into slavery to make goods for the UK's retail market. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A Falkirk MP has welcomed a political move that will force retailers to audit their supply chains in a bid to abolish modern-day slavery.

The UK Government has pledged to bring in a mandatory system as part of the Modern Slavery Bill that will make companies operating in Britain monitor how their goods are supplied and manufactured, targeting Third World sweatshops.

An amendment to the Bill from Falkirk East MP Michael Connarty, which he proposed in a Private Members Bill in 2012, is to become legislation after being backed by MPs.

Mr Connarty, vice chair of the parliamentary group on human trafficking, stepped up his campaign last year following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka where more than 1100 people died. The building housed factories of workers making goods for big British high street names.

Mr Connarty is delighted his persistence, and that of church leaders and ethical business and anti-slavery groups, has finally paid off.

He said: “This amendment will have the most far reaching impact on situations like Rana Plaza and the inhuman way people are treated while they produce goods which we buy every day in Scotland.

“This is a kite mark bill, it’s not something to beat people with a stick. People want to buy ethically and it will change the lives of millions of people. It is the best thing I have ever done in my political career.

“It affects people here too. I have constituents who are being forced to work.”

John Munro of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: “The BRC has done a lot of work and has supported this Bill. We also want it to apply to small and medium enterprises which work in the same supply chains.”

ETI SAY CONSUMERS WILL ALSO BE BETTER OFF

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) worked with a number of UK industry organisations calling on the Home Office for transparency over supply chains. The ETI also wants the Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s remit extended to help investigate forced labour. ETI Director Peter McAllister said: “Businesses have a critical role to play in tackling the crime of modern slavery in supply chains. This clause will help create a level playing field for all companies – not just those that are committed to ethical trade. This provision will also provide consumers with better information about what companies are doing.”

CAMPAIGNERS NOT ‘EXCITED’

Anti-Slavery International say government measures in the Modern Slavery Bill don’t go far enough to protect victims of trafficking.

Around 30 million people worldwide are thought to be in slavery with many trafficked to the UK for prostitution and drug cultivation.

Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, said: “I am glad that the government listened to many organisations like ours and businesses themselves to include measures to tackle slavery in supply chains of UK businesses as they absolutely should have a responsibility that the products they sell in the UK are not linked to forced labour.

‘However, the devil is in the details which we’re yet to see judging by how little the government has moved on protecting the victims of slavery in the Bill, so we are far from excited.

‘Protecting the rights of victims is crucial for tackling trafficking and at the moment the Bill is not robust enough to really address modern slavery in the UK.”