UK: Co-op releases modern slavery statement & calls on other companies to help victims back in employment

Author: Terry Slavin, Ethical Corporation, Published on: 15 May 2017

"Join us in fight against slavery, says Co-op" 10 May 2017

The Co-op today releases its first Modern Slavery Statement, vowing to go far beyond what is required by UK legislation to prevent the modern scourge of human trafficking and exploitation from entering its supply chain. Paul Gerrard, group policy and campaigns director for the Co-op, said in an interview that slavery has always been an important issue for the Co-op’s 4.3 million members...the Co-op has led the battle for companies to take responsibility for modern slavery, and campaigned strongly for Transparency in Supply Chain Provisions to be added to the Modern Slavery Act, although the reporting requirement was not in the draft bill... Asked what the Co-op learned through the process of compiling its modern slavery statement, Gerrard said: “What we learned, and what we will seek to improve further, is that while auditing and monitoring is really important, the real risk isn’t when the auditors are in, but the 51 weeks of the year when they aren’t there.”... In its Co-op Way 2016 sustainability report, also published today, the Co-op documents that 2,223 issues were raised through its auditing process in 2016, 16 of them breaching the Sound Sourcing Code Principle on “employment is freely chosen”. Gerrard said the company’s strategy is to work with suppliers to try to resolve issues. “The worst thing we can do is walk away, though it would be the easy thing to do for reputation. But it helps no one."...Gerrard pointed out that among the 10,000 victims of modern slavery that the National Crime Agency estimates to be in the UK, one big area is forced labour in the agriculture and construction sectors. “This will affect any major food retailer in the UK,” Gerrard said. And it is of increasing relevance to the Co-op, which last week announced a commitment to source 100% British meat... “My challenge to business is to take seriously the spirit of the Modern Slavery Act and make their supply chains hostile to slavery … but also to do what they can for the victims...Any business that wants to know what we have done to support victims of modern slavery find a path to employment give me a tweet and I will send them all the information.” 

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Related companies: Co-operative Group