It is all too easy to assume that slavery has been consigned to the history books given that slavery was abolished in this country 200 years ago. The reality is that it continues to this day and is much closer to our everyday lives than we might imagine or like to acknowledge.
In most towns and cities across the country, there will be nail bars, hand car washes and food producers that use trafficked and bonded labour.
On 23 June, I was delighted to officially open Action 2030: Ending Modern Slavery Together, a conference hosted by the University of Derby’s International Policing and Justice Institute. I was one of 10 representatives from companies and organisations across the East Midlands to sign the declaration that endorses the Athens Ethical Principles – committing all signatories to eradicating human trafficking from their supply chains.
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) estimates that in 2016, there are more than 45 million slaves working in 167 countries.
We made the decision to sign the declaration and, while it is not legally binding, it gives moral guidance and leadership for companies and organisations that want to ensure that no one is being exploited in this country or abroad.
I am passionate about making a difference, and publicly agreeing to adhere to the principles reinforces the importance of the work we are already undertaking that will make a difference to the lives of the many people who continue to be traded liked commodities.
At Derby, we are conducting ground-breaking research that is harnessing information technology to track down Eastern European gangs that use the internet to recruit unsuspecting girls who are promised a new life in the West but are then trafficked into the sex trade.
Closer to home, we set up the GLA Academy, and have developed a programme that provides the tools for companies to properly audit their supply chain and to identify those suppliers who are, or are suspected of, exploiting their workforce.
Through the work of the institute, we have developed an excellent working relationship with the chief constable of Derbyshire Constabulary, Mick Creedon, who is one of the institute’s visiting professors. Working with our international partners, we are also able to develop initiatives and practical techniques for law enforcement agencies around the world to identify, monitor and, ultimately, close down human trafficking gangs.
We have built a strong partnership with the Bishop of Derby, who played a pivotal role in drafting the Modern Slavery Act 2015. As a result of this new law, companies turning over more than £36 million are legally obliged to ensure that their supply chains – in the UK and overseas – do not employ people who have been trafficked or are working against their will.
In 2016, it is a sad reality that the slave trade is alive and well, and has grown to become the second most prolific criminal activity in the world, but I believe that by working together – academics, business, the church and the wider community – we can, and will, end human trafficking and modern slavery.
Author Bio: Kathryn Mitchell is vice-chancellor of the University of Derby.