Council bosses have backed a new policy to tackle the “enormous shadow” of human traffickers and modern slavery.
Last month, Sunderland City Council’s (SCC) Labour group received backing from full council to sign up to the Co-operative Party’s ‘Charter Against Modern Slavery’.
Currently supported by more than 20 councils, it aims to secure pledges from local authorities to ensure there are no instances of modern slavery in their supply chains.
Modern slavery can refer to a range of exploitation offences – from sexual exploitation and forced labour, forced marriage or forced begging to forced benefit fraud, domestic servitude and illegal adoption.
After signing up the charter, a council-wide policy and slavery and human trafficking statement was developed and rubber stamped by SCC’s cabinet on October 17.
It aims to improve training and awareness for all council staff, partners and contractors around modern slavery with a focus on prevention and deterring future offenders.
Council leader, Graeme Miller, welcomed the policy at the Sunderland Civic Centre meeting this week:
“It’s absolutely right that Sunderland Council takes such a proactive lead and tries to ensure that there is no place in Sunderland and society in general for any modern slavery practices,
“They cast an enormous shadow over us and one child or one adult being impacted by the practice of modern slavery is one too many.”
A 2017 report from the Salvation Army revealed 331 modern slavery victims were referred to the charity since July 2015 from the North East – the second highest regional figure behind London.
In practice, the new council policy aims to ensure that all staff are aware of their obligations under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and know how to act on and report warning signs.
A council report states the council is “committed to acting ethically, with integrity and transparency in all service and business dealings and expects its employees, supply chain, contractors, and partners to commit to the same”.
Cabinet secretary, Cllr Paul Stewart, added:
“There are still an awful lot of people who work for this council who deal with the public and communities.
“They’re the obvious people to have this training.”
The decision will see the new modern slavery and human trafficking statement published on the council’s website outlining key aims of the policy.