Utilities Against Slavery

The phrase ‘modern slavery’ is becoming ever more familiar. But what exactly is modern slavery?  An acknowledged definition is ‘the exploitation of people who have been forced, deceived, or coerced into a life of labour and servitude’[1]. To many of us, this definition seems like something that is happening a long way away and that is of no relevance to the water industry. You may have heard of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 or read about the need for large organisations to publish a Modern Slavery Statement each year- but somehow it may seem like someone else’s problem. Not so – it is as much our problem as that of anyone else.

It is estimated that up to 136,000 people in the United Kingdom are trapped in modern slavery[2]. Some are British citizens. Others have come to our country in the hope of a better life. All are united by an inability to control their own lives. Like many other industries, utilities may provide access to slave masters often via lower skilled activities such as digging, reinstatement or property maintenance. Alternately, we may be indirectly employing forced labour through our worldwide supply chains. It is incredibly difficult to assess the global number of people living in conditions of slavery, but academics estimate the total is in excess of 40.3 million people[3].

How can we make a difference? A group of utilities asked this question a couple of years ago. Supported by the Slave-Free Alliance (SFA), our answer has been to establish the Utilities Modern Slavery Working Group. It started with six members, and there are now 25 utility providers in the group from the water, gas and electricity sectors. We virtually met for the first time in March 2020 and have continued to do so on a regular basis. We have the goal of eradicating modern slavery from the utilities sector.

What have we achieved? We are developing a consistent approach to procuring goods and services. Working with the Supply Chain Sustainability School (SCSS) we have developed training material to inform colleagues and our supply chain. We have supported members to develop meaningful Modern Slavery Statement Registry submissions. We share developments in legislation and case law and feedback from other sectors impacted by slavery.

If your company is already a member of the working group, learn more about what you can do from your modern slavery lead. If your organisation isn’t a member, we would love you to join us.

If we can get the whole utility sector united against this abhorrent practice, we can make our sector a ‘no-go’ area for criminals who exploit the vulnerable. What a success this would be. Membership of the group is free of charge. You don’t need to be a member of the SFA or SCSS – although there are benefits to membership of both organisations.

If you want to find out more, please email info@slavefreealliance.org. We greatly appreciate your support.

Peter Thompson

Chair, Utilities Modern Slavery Working Group


[2] https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/country-studies/united-kingdom/

[3] https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/highlights/


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