Is your council benefiting from modern-day slavery?

Rhoda Grant MSP is concerned about vulnerable workers exploited for the enrichment of criminal gangs. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Rhoda Grant MSP is concerned about vulnerable workers exploited for the enrichment of criminal gangs. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Scotland’s councils need to scrutinise their billion pound public procurement chains for services such as construction, catering, cleaning and social care provision to ensure they are not inadvertently accepting cheap tenders fuelled by people working in modern-day slavery, an MSP has said.

Rhoda Grant, Scottish Labour and Co-operative Party MSP for the Highlands and Islands, is urging every council to sign up and implement the Co-operative Party’s Charter Against Modern Slavery. Its ten pledges include councils training their procurement teams, terminating contractors’ contracts if they fail to comply with the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and publicising their whistle-blowing policy so staff can report suspected modern slavery.

Eight out of Scotland’s 32 councils have signed up for the charter, joining another 80 across England. These are Edinburgh, Midlothian, West Lothian, Dundee, Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire.

Collectively Scottish councils spend more than £3.3bn a year on goods and services.

There are estimated to be up to 138,000 victims of modern-day slavery UK-wide – not only working in nail bars and restaurants but also being exploited by companies supplying council goods and services.

“Every council in Scotland should sign up so that we target council procurement chains to send a strong signal to people who enslave other human beings to enrich themselves,” Grant said.

“Implementing the charter helps identify and rescue those who are living lives of servitude and can link them up with support from agencies such as social work and child protection.”

Grant added: “People think this is an urban problem but people are in effect being ‘held hostage’ in rural areas too. It has also become clear from agencies involved in fighting this trade that the biggest group of people being exploited by the slave masters are vulnerable UK citizens.”

Supply chains are complex but the charter obliges councils to go beyond the legal obligations of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.

Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Co-operative Party, said: “It became clear to us that while the legislation in the Act was new and innovative there were gaps where Westminster was not really enforcing it.

“We thought that wasn’t good enough, so we began campaigning on local authority procurement as they are really big spenders in the supply chain. There are some duties on local authorities but we felt they could go above and beyond their statutory obligations.”

He said training council procurement teams meant private contractors whose services are ‘bought in’ could be properly scrutinised.

“There is a difference between in-house provision and something local authorities are ‘buying in’ and putting contracts out to tender. By empowering councils’ policies they can ensure that modern day slavery is not in it at the point of procurement.

“The charter ensures procurement teams are trained to spot and ask the right questions. For example, if there are low-cost tenders 55 per cent cheaper then there is a modern slavery risk within that.”

The Co-operative Party is also working with anti-trafficking charities and has launched the Bright Future initiative.

This offers victims of modern slavery a four-week placement at high street companies.