Co-op provides hope for victims of '˜barbaric' modern slavery

WE must be ashamed to admit it, but slavery is alive in 21st century Britain.

The chief executive of the Co-op, Steve Murrells
The chief executive of the Co-op, Steve Murrells

Modern slavery can be found across the country and the victims are often subjected to sexual exploitation and forced labour.

The Co-op is determined to play a leading role in helping the victims of the modern slave trade to take the first steps to independence.

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The mutual has promised to provide jobs for slavery victims and it is encouraging others to follow its lead and combat the menace of slavery.

Paul Gerrard, the Co-op’s policy director, said: “The conditions of modern slaves are unspeakable. They have no rights. They are completely the belongings of somebody else. And it’s happening right here, right now.”

In 2013, the Home Office estimated that there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK.

The Co-op has joined forces with the charity City Hearts, which offers support and accommodation to vulnerable people, to provide 30 survivors of modern slavery with paid work experience in its food business and, if suitable, a job.

Under the scheme, known as the Bright Future programme, the Co-op provides survivors with a four-week paid work placement, followed by a non-competitive interview.

If this is successful and there is a position vacant, the candidate will be offered a job. The first beneficiary of the scheme is already working in a Co-op store in the North west.

Mr Gerrard said that the former slavery victim who had joined the Co-op store was benefiting from the “dignity of being paid to work”.

Steve Murrells, the chief executive of the Co-op, said: “Having heard our new colleague’s harrowing story I am proud that our Co-op has teamed up with City Hearts to offer real practical help to survivors of this evil crime.

“It is clear to me that victims need to be supported while they rebuild their lives, and central to that is the dignity that paid, freely chosen employment provides.

“Without this, there is a real chance that they could fall back into the hands of those who have exploited them and for the terrible, unspeakable cycle of enslavement to begin again. Modern slavery will only be stopped by Government, businesses and society working together to ensure supply chains are transparent, so giving this shocking crime no shadow to hide in.”

Sarah Newton, the Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism, said: “The private sector has a vital role to play in eradicating this barbaric crime and I hope that this positive project will inspire other businesses to take action in the future.”

Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said: “We need more companies to respond to modern slavery like the Co-op. This pioneering approach to victim support will provide long-term care, boost opportunities for the future and, most importantly of all, prevent the risk of re-trafficking.

Already several key Co-op suppliers including Tulip, Greencore and 2Sisters have signed up to support Bright Future in 2017. They will provide employment opportunities to victims of modern slavery. In the, UK City Hearts helps victims of human trafficking and modern day slavery. It operates a number of safe houses and provides longer term support for survivors. The Government provides direct housing and financial support to victims for 45 days, while their claim to be a victim of modern slavery is considered. City Hearts then continues to work with individuals through the Integration Support Programme, offering practical help.