July 23, 2018 / 1:00 AM / 4 months ago

Top UK retailer John Lewis backs job scheme for slavery victims

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Major retailer John Lewis on Monday became the latest British business to back a scheme that aims to provide jobs for hundreds of survivors of modern slavery, following cosmetics company The Body Shop and mobile phone and electricals firm Dixons Carphone.

Britain’s largest department store group has joined the “Bright Future” project, which was launched last year and offers slavery victims four-week paid work placements that can lead to a permanent job.

Up to 300 such placements could be created by 2020 after about 10 companies in Britain signed up in recent weeks, said the scheme’s founders, the Co-op supermarket and the charity City Hearts.

“Victims need to be supported while they rebuild their lives and central to that is the dignity that paid, freely chosen employment provides,” said Steve Murrells, head of the Co-op.

“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.”

Britain is home to about 136,000 modern slaves - trapped in forced labor, sex exploitation and forced marriages - found the 2018 Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation.

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 boosting efforts to catch traffickers and provide support to survivors.

Such assistance must take into account that victims often suffer stigma, discrimination and trauma, and lack access to counseling, healthcare and housing, activists and survivors say.

From making clothes and furniture in India to cooking, catering and even coding in the United States, companies worldwide are increasingly looking to employ slavery survivors.

More than 50 are already part of the “Bright Future” scheme, which has also been backed by food manufacturers, a flower and plant retailer, and a leading construction firm.

“Knowing that businesses are rising up to make a difference, many more survivors will experience dignity, hope and real transformation,” said Phillip Clayton of charity City Hearts.

John Lewis Partnership’s director of corporate responsibility, Benet Northcote, said the 154-year-old group owned by its 85,500 workers had long been committed to raising labor standards and improving working conditions.

The retailer - which also owns Waitrose supermarkets - last year pulled luxury granite worktops from sale after rights groups found many of the laborers mining the rock in southern Indian quarries were victims of modern slavery.

Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. 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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