Following the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) shock revelation that Modern Slavery and Trafficking is affecting ‘every large town and city in the country’ and that the NCA’s previous estimates of 10,000 – 13,000 victims in the UK are the ‘tip of the iceberg’, a report by the University of Sheffield and the University of Bath has illuminated one of the main reasons why it is difficult to know the true scale of Modern Slavery and Trafficking in the UK.

The study focused on the food and construction sectors. The report found that whilst an increasing number of companies can accurately trace where their product comes from, many companies do not know the backgrounds of their workforce.

An owner of a UK hotel chain explained: “We have pretty much solved traceability of the food served in our restaurants. I can tell you the farm where the steak on your plate came from, probably even the name of the cow. But we have no idea where the workers came from that work in our kitchens.”

The report indicates that existing background checks are not ‘fit for purpose’ to uncover Modern Slavery and Trafficking. The researchers in this study concluded that the key is to understand and monitor the labour supply chain.

Professor Andrew Crane from the University of Bath says that if companies can find a way to trace their products, they can do the same with their workforce. He said “Twenty years ago most high street retailers did not have a clue where the products they sold actually came from. Since then, there has been a revolution in responsible business practices and companies have invested millions of pounds to trace the source of their products and tackle the myriad sustainability issues they found there. To prevent the misery of modern slavery from blighting our workforces companies must apply that same focus to their staff.

It remains to be seen whether in light of this study, the government will take steps to ensure employers carry out a more thorough background check on workers before they commence employment.

By Zahid Reza

Image used under CC courtesy of Marissa Orton