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Tackling modern slavery from the top down: Procurex Wales

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According to a Home Office report, in 2013 there were estimated to be between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK. Ahead of his keynote on the subject at Procurex Wales, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority’s Head of Business Change and Development, Mark Heath, tells BiP journalist Julie Shennan how the problem is growing and what employers can do to tackle it.

Ahead of presenting his keynote on the subject at Procurex Wales, Mark Heath, Head of Business Change and Development at the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), described UK modern slavery as a huge problem and urged all employers to be vigilant.

Mr Heath said: “The Home Office put out figures in 2014 that suggested there were between 10.000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK. But I don’t think we have yet fully grasped the size of the issue. The simple answer is that we don’t really know the true numbers. We need to look at the supply chain and report issues of concern.”

Mr Heath explained that though individual cases of modern slavery may vary, they share certain common factors: “If you are working or living in conditions that you would not freely choose for yourself then you are being exploited as a victim of modern slavery.”

Low-skill, high-demand and frequent-turnover jobs – such as in construction, care and warehousing – are soft targets for gangs, as Mr Heath noted: “Jobs that happen in the background tend to offer criminal gangs the opportunity to exploit individuals.”

This exploitation is often undetected due to the distance between workers and their employers.

Mr Heath commented: “Business leaders should try to meet with their workers and discuss their circumstances. Vigilance can start with a conversation on recruitment processes.

“Business leaders should identify what modern slavery might look like so that they can discuss whether it might be happening in their supply chain.”

Painting a picture of modern slavery in operation, Mr Heath explained that prospective workers from abroad are often conned by middlemen who transport them to the UK and seize their passports on the pretence that they will be returned after work is secured.

He said: “The gang leaders will then take the passports, open bank accounts and give these account details to a recruitment agency. The agency will be presented with workers who seem to have the right to work in the UK and will place them in jobs. The agency will not understand what is going on.

“Those workers who don’t have control over their own bank accounts or post will never see the benefits of their wage.”

He continued: “When you look at this simple process it makes us all realise how susceptible all supply chains are to being infiltrated by criminality. We want to use Procurex Wales to encourage checks and balances in the supply chain and tackle modern slavery.”

Anyone who suspects modern slavery is happening in their workplace can report it to the GLA, the National Hotline for Human Trafficking or Crime Stoppers.

Mr Heath added: “If you have a suspicion, report it to the authorities instead of trying to tackle it yourself. We need to protect the victim and – if a criminal investigation is needed – we need the right people in place to carry it out.”

The Modern Slavery Act has significantly raised the criminal penalties for any employer found to be breaking this law, but businesses should also be concerned about the adverse media coverage and loss of reputation such criminality can entail.

Mr Heath commented: “Some of the largest businesses require backing from ethical investors. These investors are now investigating companies’ working practices, so any sign of modern-day slavery could stop this investment.”

To help you spot the signs of modern slavery the GLA will be on hand at Procurex Wales to talk to delegates.

Mr Heath said: “Events like Procurex are really useful to get messages of supply chain best practice across to a broad range of businesses. The GLA look forward to taking our model and sharing it with other businesses; to spread the message that businesses must take action against modern slavery.”

To hear from Mark Heath and other industry thought leaders, register for Procurex Wales.

Procurex North Live 2016 Review

Colin Cram (Procurex North Live 2016)

Possibility filled the air at this year’s Procurex North Live when representatives from all levels of the supply chain united at the Manchester Central Convention Complex on Tuesday 8 March. Here BiP Solutions journalist Donald MacInnes recounts the day.

Opportunities for discovery and networking presented themselves in all corners of the venue, from the exhibition stands to the Keynote Arena.

Chairing the Keynote Arena and setting the scene for the day with his opening address was procurement expert Colin Cram. Mr Cram discussed the increasingly challenging public sector procurement environment.

Addressing a packed arena, he spoke about the importance of well-managed procurement in the public sector.

He explained: “Procurement is taking up an increasing proportion of public sector spending. If we exclude social security benefits and pensions, it’s heading towards 40% of public sector expenditure. Public services absolutely depend on procurement – and depend on procurement being managed well.”

Following Mr Cram in the Keynote Arena was Chief Executive of Trafford Council Theresa Grant. Ms Grant reiterated the importance of better public procurement, highlighting the busy and exciting role it continued to play in devolving Manchester as a thriving hub of opportunity.

She commented: “The powers and responsibilities transferred from Government to Greater Manchester are geared towards accelerating growth, boosting skills and encouraging local decision-making and increased self-sufficiency of our businesses, our residents and all our public services.”

Moving onto the main exhibition floor, representatives from all types of organisation could be found networking with attendees, building new relationships and passing on their wisdom and experience to delegates.

One such organisation was ISS Kinloss-Lossiemouth, who could be found in the Best Practice Case Study Zone at the Procurex Learning Academy. ISS Kinloss-Lossiemouth Catering and Retail Manager and Corporate Champion, Zee Fletcher, enthused of Procurex North Live: “Bringing buyers and suppliers together at events such as Procurex is massively beneficial.

“We’re in a small part of Scotland but we’re a global company. Working today and meeting with other suppliers helps us engage together and hopefully develop and make new links for procurement.

“Today I’ve already met people who we are going to be doing business with. Without Procurex, we wouldn’t have actually met with them, especially in the rural area of Scotland we live in.”

ISS Kinloss-Lossiemouth went on that evening to win ‘Highly Commended’ in the ‘Best Service Award – Other Organisations’ category at the National GO Awards 2016/17, held at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate.

Another key organisation at Procurex North Live 2016 was its official event partner the Crown Commercial Service (CCS). In the central CCS Pavilion, Neil Martin, Customer and Digital Communications Manager, discussed the success of the day:

He said: “There has been a constant and steady flow of people coming to the pavilion and it’s been a really good opportunity for us to meet with delegates.

“It’s always important for us to get out and network and engage with our key customers and suppliers and events like Procurex North are a great occasion for us to meet lots of them in one place at one time.”

Building upon this year’s success, Procurex North Live 2017 promises to deliver even more opportunities to buyers and suppliers. With yet another busy schedule of engagement, learning and professional development, Procurex North Live 2017 will return to Manchester Central on 17 March 2017. To register your interest, visit the Procurex North Live website.