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Newsletter: Ending exploitation

March 31, 2015

As FLEX enters a new financial year we offer a round-up of progress made over the last 12 months and what the future holds.

FLEX has been making strong progress in its work to promote effective responses to trafficking for labour exploitation around the world. We have been influencing the development of a new UK Modern Slavery Act and related policy; improving identification of victims of trafficking for labour exploitation; and building real understanding of trafficked persons’ needs and tailored responses to this crime. Alongside this FLEX gained charitable status, a Board of five expert Trustees and has taken on two new staff members.

We’re really excited about what the next twelve months hold. We’ll publish findings from our research into identification and support to victims of trafficking for labour exploitation across the EU and launch identification and support pilots in the UK, Romania and the Netherlands. We’ll launch our global corporate accountability database. We’ll continue to work with migrant community and support organisations as well as homelessness organisations to explore how anti-trafficking responses can best support those vulnerable to trafficking. Finally we will work to ensure that the UK’s new anti-trafficking response is effective for all those who are trafficked for labour exploitation.

There’s much to do and challenges ahead but we’ve never been more confident that real progress can be achieved.

Selected highlights of 2014-15

Tackling ‘modern slavery’ in the UK 

As the UK debate on the Modern Slavery Bill heated up FLEX established itself as a leader in the promotion of rights-based responses to trafficking for labour exploitation. Our work across the UK included: successful advocacy to make the Bill stronger for victims of trafficking for labour exploitation; training 222 frontline workers from migrant, community, refugee and asylum organisations on how to identify and help victims; researching and producing two key Working Papers on Prevention and Access to Justice that influenced both the Modern Slavery Act and Government policy; and conducting legal focus groups, leading to the publication of a Guide to Legal Remedies for victims of trafficking for labour exploitation.

In the UK we have a new Modern Slavery Strategy to be implemented, an Anti-Slavery Commissioner now in place, the pilot of a new identification and support mechanism for victims and the new UK Modern Slavery Act including provisions on labour inspection and corporate accountability. All of these changes provide opportunities for FLEX to continue to shape the UK’s response to trafficking for labour exploitation in ways that best protect the rights of trafficked persons.     

Pioneering responses to trafficking across Europe 

The ILO estimates that there are 880,000 victims of forced labour in the EU, yet there is limited awareness of the issue among frontline agencies and organisations that have contact with exploited workers, and little is known about the particular needs of those who have been exploited for their labour. Jointly with partners in the UK, Romania and the Netherlands, FLEX is working across Europe to change this, pioneering strategies for pro-active identification and support for victims of trafficking for labour exploitation. This work is co-funded by the Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme of the European Union.

Research into existing identification and support for victims of trafficking for labour exploitation is underway in the three project countries and a report will be published in June 2015. This will inform identification and support strategies to be piloted in all three countries this year. This work will allow FLEX to reach vulnerable workers in agriculture; domestic work; construction; and cleaning, who are often overlooked in anti-trafficking responses.

International accountability for exploitation 

Activists and consumers alike are increasingly calling for accountability from corporations for the impact of their actions on workers around the world. FLEX has been heavily engaged in this work, in particular working to ensure the UK Modern Slavery Act includes a provision that makes companies responsible for addressing exploitation in their supply chains. As a result of our advocacy the UK government has added a ‘transparency in supply chains’ provision to the Act and many UK decision makers are now behind our calls to ensure greater accountability from business.

Following on from this work, FLEX is developing a corporate accountability database that will compare laws in ten countries worldwide that are used to hold companies to account for the treatment of workers in their supply chains. The database, to be launched in September 2015, will be freely accessible for use by lawyers and activists in countries where companies are exploiting workers. Information will also be used to build understanding of best practice in legislating for corporate accountability and on the steps companies are taking to safeguard workers. 

Building a strong and sustainable organisation 

At the end of 2014, FLEX gained charitable status and officially announced the appointment of its five Trustees, Paul Blomfield MP, Emma Townsend, Roger Plant, Patria Roman and Adam Weiss. Our Trustees have a diverse and rich pool of skills, from politics and labour rights to accounting and governance providing FLEX with expert guidance and oversight of our work. FLEX Co-Directors Claire Falconer and Caroline Robinson are joined by Project Officer, Ainhoa Barrenechea and Research Officer, Helen Muggeridge as well as Online Content Volunteer Bridie France, giving FLEX the resources it needs to meet its ambitious objectives for the coming year.