September Insight – The Modern Slavery Act

20 September 2017

“The first step to eradicating the scourge of modern slavery is acknowledging and confronting its existence.” – Theresa May, British Prime Minister

In this interview, Paul Gerrard, Group Policy Director at Co-op Group, celebrates an increased awareness that the legislation – The Modern Slavery Act 2015 – has achieved in business, but also considers other appropriate actions that could be executed to further protect human and worker rights of many victims…

Eurosif: Could you describe the Co-op’s response to the Modern Slavery Act 2015?

PG: In 2016, we set out on a journey to review and rearticulate our ethical policies. We feel that the ethical heart is at the centre of being a co-operative business. This is why the co-operative business model is so different to public business sector models. Furthermore, we have continued to champion social issues that we believe are important, and so we campaign in areas such as Fairtrade, in order to balance the shares between supply chains, and have also signed up to a global investment fund that tackles water poverty. In addition, we have implemented policies that ensure the safety and support of victims of modern slavery. At the Co-op, we believe that these processes are not ones that simply begin and end, but rather, we view them as continuous exercises.

EurosifAs Group Policy Director, how do you go about defining the sustainability strategy for the group?

PG: The heart of the sustainability strategy is the fact that we are a co-operative business. We have in place, especially in our food businesses, great examples of sustainability in a broader sense. For example, we aim for 80% of our food packaging to recyclable by 2020, which is considerably in excess of English standards. In addition, we have reduced our direct carbon footprint by 43% since 2006. Basing what we do on a solid foundation is important to us. However, what we always do as a company is listen to our members who are constantly looking at ways to fix the market. We are very much member-driven, because members own my Co-op.

EurosifIs your board supporting the definition of materiality to determine the principles of social impact?

PG: Absolutely. On our board we have individuals that help deal with the Social Value Act. We have a key architect of the Social Value Act that drives us to put social value into public secure positions. We also have Victor Adebowale, who is the Chair of Social Enterprises UK, and so by definition regard themselves with social impact. They do not just do good things but they are able to demonstrate that what we do has a sustainable, meaningful impact on the society we operate.

Eurosif: What improvements could be made to The Modern Slavery Act 2015?

PG: To improve the legislation, I think it would be necessary to clarify on what ‘compliance’ means. Businesses should be expected to do more than simply write a statement every year. Rather, they should have to provide visible evidence in order to ensure that they are conducting practices properly, and furthermore, are not making any false claims. If a business is found to be non-compliant, then sanctions should be in place as a means to punish but also improve current standards. Secondly, I believe that businesses have a responsibility to support victims of modern slavery. One of the ways that could do this is by producing company policies that are dedicated to this area. Business accountability is the next step forward in my opinion.