Several major British businesses will offer jobs to up to 300 survivors of modern slavery to help people who have been rescued from or escaped exploitation rebuild their lives, Britain’s Co-op supermarket said on Tuesday.
The companies are set to join the “Bright Future” project – launched last April by Co-op and charity City Hearts – which sees victims offered a four-week paid placement followed by a non-competitive interview, leading to a possible permanent job.
As many as 300 jobs for survivors could be created by 2020 under the scheme, with up to 20 companies in Britain expected to announce their involvement in the coming weeks, Co-op said.
Co-op convened a meeting of companies, including oil giant BP, supermarket chain Tesco and cosmetics firm The Body Shop, at Britain’s parliament in January to discuss the job initiative.
“Victims need to be supported while they rebuild their lives and central to that is the dignity that paid, freely chosen work provides,” Steve Murrells, head of Co-op, said in a statement.
“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.”
So far, Co-op has recruited 19 survivors to full-time jobs in its shops or to sort goods at its warehouses. A further 11 victims are at various stages within the scheme, it said.
At least 13,000 people across Britain are estimated by the government to be victims of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude – but police say the true figure could be in the tens of thousands with anti-slavery operations rising.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) – dubbed Britain’s FBI – received 5,145 reports of suspected slavery victims in 2017, an increase of more than a third from 3,804 for the previous year.
With the lucrative crime – estimated to enslave 40 million people globally and raise annual illegal profits of $150 billion – evolving and spreading, countries and charities are ramping up efforts to catch traffickers and provide support to survivors.
But help must go beyond shelter, and take into account that victims may suffer stigma, discrimination and trauma, and lack access to counselling, healthcare and housing, activists say.
“The ability to access good employment can be a transformative step for a survivor of modern slavery,” Janet Fisher, UK advocacy manager for the British anti-trafficking charity Hope For Justice, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.