Launch: Operation Fort Revisited - Retailers and suppliers respond to the UK's largest anti-slavery prosecution
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has today published a new review of the business response to Operation Fort.
Operation Fort, led by West Midlands Police, uncovered the UK’s largest-ever modern slavery network. In July 2019, eight offenders from two Polish organised criminal groups were jailed for between three to 11 years each after being convicted of crimes including trafficking, conspiracy to require another to perform forced labour and money laundering.
Hundreds of victims had been 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 published a review investigating the business response to Operation Fort. That review set out her findings about the work of businesses to address the risks of slavery and trafficking in their organisations and supply chains.
Today’s follow-up review outlines the work undertaken by businesses since then including their responses to the IASC maturity framework developed as part of last year’s publication. For many of the companies, the seriousness and severity of Operation Fort has been a driver for improvement and peer to peer collaboration. This report sets out emerging good practice and industry initiatives developed over the past year despite the challenging Covid-19 environment.
Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:
“Operation Fort was a complex and lengthy case which demonstrated that no supply chain is safe from modern slavery risks. Hundreds of victims were subjected to labour exploitation over many years and their products entered the supply chains of many of the UK’s largest retailers.
“I wrote to the chief executive officers of these businesses and asked them to explain what they were doing to ensure that they were addressing the risk of slavery and trafficking in their organisations and supply chains. Their responses informed my report last year.
“This latest report sets out the progress made by businesses since then. I have been encouraged by the way in which businesses have improved their responses to supply chain management, training of staff, collaboration across the sector and worker engagement.
The tone has been set at the top in many businesses and I welcome this clear commitment to protecting the most vulnerable workers from modern slavery and human trafficking.”
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.
- The Commissioner's Strategic Plan 2019 – 2021 was launched in October 2019 and her Annual Report 2019 – 2020 was launched in September 2020.
- 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.
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