Former UK PM Theresa May has called on the food industry to go further and work faster to prevent worker exploitation within global supply chains. May is the architect of much of today’s modern slavery legislation. Speaking on 6 September at the annual Modern Slavery Intelligence Network (MSIN) conference hosted by Tesco in Welwyn Garden City, May stressed the need for all food businesses to work together to tackle people-trafficking and worker exploitation within international supply chains by improving due diligence and driving increasing transparency.
”Since coming together three years ago to establish an intelligence sharing network, the MSIN has shown how businesses can take a lead in the fight against slavery and exploitation,” she said. ”Over half of the intelligence shared has led to direct investigative action and enabled several potential cases of modern slavery to be identified. I hope your work – and the real, tangible, difference you have made – will encourage others to join you in ridding our supply chains of modern slavery. And as I prepare to launch a global commission next month, which will bring together senior decision-makers from politics, civil society, business and academia, I hope you will join with us in our work, galvanising international momentum to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking by 2030.”
While the challenge of modern slavery has been present in global supply chains for decades, it has grown in recent years, according to the MSIN. Brexit and the war in Ukraine have led to a substantial reduction of agricultural and food industry workers from Eastern Europe coming to the UK, meaning that workers have been sought from further afield and from countries where due diligence is even more important. Workers can be brought to the UK under false promises and subjected to exploitation on arrival, very often by organised criminal gangs.
Issues of modern slavery are widespread globally, and growing, with 50 million people worldwide estimated to be in modern slavery, the MSIN said. The UK government estimates that around 10,000 people in the UK are in modern slavery; experts believe this number is far higher, closer to 100,000.