May 9, 2018 / 4:08 PM / 6 months ago

UK must shame firms that fail to tackle worker abuse and slavery: watchdog

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Businesses in Britain that turn a blind eye to worker abuses and modern slavery within their supply chains should be named and shamed and hit with tougher punishments, from heavy fines to prosecutions, a state-backed labor watchdog said on Wednesday.

Anti-slavery enforcers must use police-style powers granted last year to tackle all forms of workplace exploitation, and the government should chase more prosecutions of unscrupulous employers, said the Director of Labor Market Enforcement (LME).

Big brands should be forced to take joint responsibility for abuses in their supply chains, said David Metcalf, who was appointed last year to oversee agencies that enforce employment rights as part of a crackdown on workplace exploitation.

“Failure to correct the infringements within a given timeframe ... could result in public naming of both the brand name and supplier,” he said in a report on the LME’s strategy.

Britain’s business ministry said it would not accept any illegal behavior from bosses who exploit their workers.

“We are already cracking down on irresponsible company directors and boosting protections for workers,” Britain’s business minister Andrew Griffiths said in a statement.

Regarded as a global leader in the drive to end slavery, Britain passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 to crack down on traffickers, force businesses to check their supply chains for forced labor, and protect people at risk of being enslaved.

At least 13,000 people are estimated to be slaves in Britain - forced to work in car washes, nail bars, brothels and homes - but police say the true figure may be in the tens of thousands.

Slavery in car washes will be investigated by parliament, lawmakers said last month, amid concerns that more people are being enslaved with unregulated sites popping up across Britain.

Licensing of hand car washes and nail bars by Britain’s anti-slavery body should be trialed to tackle the threat of human trafficking and worker exploitation, according to the LME.

The watchdog also called for greater funding for the government’s main employment enforcement agency - the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS) - to carry out inspections.

“The (EAS) is critically underfunded, with just one inspector per 100,000 workers,” Caroline Robinson, director of the UK-based anti-trafficking charity Focus on Labor Exploitation (FLEX), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Across all of its agencies, Britain has only four labor inspectors per 100,000 workers - half of the number in Poland and a third of those in Norway - according to research by FLEX.

Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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