Britain urged to name and shame firms that exploit workers

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 19:15 GMT

A woman shops in a supermarket in London, Britain April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

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Employers in Britain can expect their labour practices to be inspected only once every 500 years on average

By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON, Nov 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Naming and shaming companies in Britain that exploit workers and dishing out large fines can help stamp out abuses, pressure groups said on Tuesday, welcoming draft legislation aimed at closing loopholes that allow modern slavery to flourish.

Britain's Work and Pensions Select Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee this week called for more powers and resources to boost workers' rights and punish unscrupulous firms which abuse their employees.

"We urgently need to shift the balance so that the risk of being caught out is greater than the possibility of gaining from abusing workers' rights," said Caroline Robinson of Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), an anti-trafficking charity.

"At the moment, there is little deterrent for unscrupulous employers and so when abuses go unchecked, the door is opened to severe exploitation."

Employers in Britain can expect their labour practices to be inspected only once every 500 years on average, and receive insignificant fines if they break labour laws, the report said.

More frequent and comprehensive workplace inspections and larger fines would help to root out abuses and protect vulnerable low-paid workers, it said.

"Companies that flout the law, and those that tolerate exploitation ... should be 'named and shamed'," it said.

Under Britain's 2015 Modern Slavery Act, companies with a turnover of more than 36 million pounds ($47.5 million) must produce an annual statement outlining the actions they have taken to combat forced labour within their supply chains.

Yet more than half of about 20,000 companies in Britain covered by the provision have failed to comply, while the government has not compelled any firms to respond, FLEX says.

Most of Britain's FTSE 100 companies have taken a "tick box" approach, with half providing "no meaningful information" about steps taken to tackle slavery in their supply chains, said the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) last month.

"Laws mean nothing unless they are enforced," Phil Bloomer, BHRRC's executive director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We need a well-resourced inspectorate to catch abusive companies, and higher fines."

Britain is regarded as being at the forefront of global efforts to combat modern slavery, and its landmark 2015 law was passed in response to revelations that slave labour is being used to make everything from T-shirts to mobile phones.

(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 http://news.trust.org)

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