The bosses of some of Britain’s biggest companies will hold talks with Amber Rudd next week as the Government seeks private sector help to eradicate the “barbaric crime” of modern slavery.
Sky News has learnt that the Home Secretary has invited chief executives from companies including Anglo American, Aviva, Barclays, BT Group, HSBC and WPP to pledge renewed public support for efforts to stamp out slavery from their supply chains.
The Business Against Slavery Summit will take place next Monday against a backdrop of stark statistics including Home Office estimates that there are 13,000 slaves in the UK.
Forced labour is among the most prominent issues on the private sector’s human rights agenda, and has acquired a more urgent focus since 2015, when the Modern Slavery Act became law.
The legislation requires all companies with a turnover of £36m or more that undertake business in the UK to report publicly on what they are doing to ensure there is no slavery in their supply chains.
Alongside the Act, the Government appointed an anti-slavery commissioner, although ministers including Ms Rudd have acknowledged the need to take further action.
Among the companies which have published formal statements relating to modern slavery is Aviva, which said it would improve supplier due diligence and identify appropriate performance indicators for future measurement.
The increasingly complex and global nature of multinational companies’ supply chains has heightened the risk of household-name companies finding themselves embroiled in controversy over modern slavery and human trafficking activities.
The National Crime Agency is understood to believe that the actual number of slaves in Britain is higher than Home Office estimates, while some agencies have suggested that the number around the world could be as many as 40m people.
Among the bosses expected to attend Monday’s forum are Mark Cutifani of Anglo American and BT’s Gavin Patterson, while it is expected to be jointly chaired by John Studzinski, an investment banker who sits on the Home Office board and is a vice-chair of Human Rights Watch.
One company source urged the Government to work to ensure international consistency of rules.
“This will just become another big regulatory burden unless more is done to co-ordinate.
“The UK needs to lead and set a standard that others follow,” the person said.
Ms Rudd described the scandal of modern slavery last month as a “barbaric crime that destroys lives, which is why this Government has taken world-leading action to tackle it – toughening up sentences, increasing support for victims and encouraging more to come forward”.
“I have made £8.5m of additional funding available to transform the policing response to modern slavery, and commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to inspect the police response,” she told the Evening Standard.
None of the companies contacted by Sky News would comment, while a Home Office spokesman also declined to comment.