Launch: Operation Fort - What businesses should learn from the UK’s largest anti-slavery prosecution
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has today published her review investigating the business response to Operation Fort, Britain’s largest anti-slavery prosecution to date with an estimated 400 victims.
On 5 July 2019, eight members of a Polish criminal gang were convicted of slavery, trafficking and money laundering offences. Victims were trafficked from Poland and forced to work in farms, factories, waste recycling plants and parcel sorting warehouses. Their products entered the supply chains of some of the UK’s largest retailers.
Last year, Dame Sara wrote to the CEOs of 15 retailers affected, expressing her concerns about Operation Fort and asking what measures the companies were taking to ensure that suppliers were not using slave labour.
One year on, this review sets out her findings about the work of businesses since then to address the risks of slavery and trafficking in their organisations and supply chains.
Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:
“Operation Fort sends a clear warning that no supply chain is safe from worker exploitation. The businesses in which the men and women were exploited supplied goods to major retailers across the UK. Any of us could have unwittingly purchased goods produced by victims of modern slavery in this country.
Modern slavery and human trafficking are egregious criminal offences and it is important that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that victims are supported. Cases such as Operation Fort send a strong message of the state’s resolve to pursue wrongdoing, however complex the investigation and prosecution. This deters offenders.
However, investigations and prosecutions also provide valuable opportunities to understand how the criminals operate and, therefore, what businesses can do to build their resilience, protect their workers from exploitation and prevent it from happening again.
Our modern slavery legislation requires big businesses to produce modern slavery statements outlining the steps they are taking to tackle trafficking in their organisations and supply chains.
It is clear that businesses need to go beyond a box-ticking approach to preventing exploitation. I have been encouraged so far by the business response to Operation Fort but we cannot become complacent. We must remain ever vigilant to the activities of those who seek to exploit the labour of their fellow human beings.”
Notes to editors
- Part 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 created the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The Commissioner has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences and the identification of victims.
- The Commissioner is given an annual budget with which to appoint staff and carry out her duties. She is accountable through her strategic plan and annual reports, which the Secretary of State lays before Parliament, setting out the extent to which objectives and priorities are achieved. Her Strategic Plan 2019 – 2021 was launched in October 2019.
- Dame Sara Thornton was appointed as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner by the Secretary of State following consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. She took up post at the beginning of May 2019 and her appointment is for three years.