vegetables

Hidden human cost lies within the food on our tables

The hidden human cost within our food is under the spotlight today, Human Rights Day 10 December, with the launch of a major new initiative – It’s Time to Break the Chain– by the University of Hull. Human vending machine installed to illustrate the plight of the estimated 25 million people trapped in forced labour across the world including right here in the UK. While new research reveals consumer appetite for more ethical practices from businesses.

break the chain

'You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.' William Wilberforce, MP

One of Hull’s most famous sons, Wilberforce dedicated most of his life to the movement that led to the abolition of the British slave trade over 200 years ago. His fight for freedom remains as relevant as ever today.

  • Initiative ‘It’s Time to Break the Chain’ launched on Human Rights Day to highlight the plight of the estimated 25 million people trapped in forced labour across the world – including right here in the UK.
  • New study by University of Hull and YouGov reveals confusion around the existence of modern-day slavery despite the fact that practices such as forced labour, labour exploitation and human trafficking occur on a global scale; laying hidden within supply chains to produce many of the world’s goods and services.
  • ‘Human vending machine’, launches initiative to demonstrate the significant risk of exploitative practices that lay hidden within the supply chains of some of our most commonplace household goods.
  • Stocked with everyday food items, the human vending machines illustrates that much of the food items we buy in the UK such as fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and cheese are at high risk of being supplied, at some point in the chain, by forced labour.
  • New online survey from the University of Hull and YouGov reveals over a third (34%) of UK adults are unaware whether modern-day slavery practices such as forced labour and human trafficking are used in the production of fresh foods.
  • 84% of UK adults would be very or fairly concerned if they became aware that modern-day slavery practices were used within the production of the fresh food product(s) they purchased.
  • University of Hull launches initiative to galvanise consumer power and influence companies to combat slavery practices in supply chains across all sectors.
  • 84% of UK adults agree that businesses should ensure that ethical practices are made a priority at every stage of their supply chains.
  • Consumers asked to share #BreakTheChain and influence businesses to take action.

It’s Time to Break the Chain launches with the installation of a ‘human vending machine’, stocked with fresh produce and operated by a person symbolically ‘confined’ within. The human vending machine represents the countless lives that are trapped in forced labour across the world – including here in the UK – highlighting the hidden human cost within our food.

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Cristina Talens is Director of Modern Slavery Risk Assessments at the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute and has over 20 years of experience of working on modern slavery, labour exploitation and human rights. She said:

‘Modern-day slavery practices such as forced labour, labour exploitation and human trafficking lay hidden within supply chains to produce many of the world’s goods and services. As the practice is so clandestine it is difficult to pin down the exact scale but the International Labour Organisation estimates there are 25 million people trapped in forced labour across the world – with the majority of these trapped in forced labour within the private economy.

‘These are lives lived trapped. Devoid of the most basic human rights – and stripped of freedom.'

Cristina Talens, Director of Modern Slavery Risk Assessment, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

‘The areas of our lives affected by modern-day slavery practices and human trafficking are widespread with forced labour existing in the hospitality, domestic, beauty and construction industries to name a few.’

The vending machine stocked with fresh produce illustrates the significant risk of exploitative practices that lay hidden within the supply chains of one of our most commonplace household goods – the food on our tables.

Cristina explained: ‘As consumers we’re often concerned about the provenance of our food. But many of us are unaware there may be human costs involved in bringing food to our tables here in the UK.

‘With today's increasingly complex and fast-paced global market place, legitimate industries are at risk of becoming entangled in labour exploitation and modern slavery as organised criminals infiltrate the food industry posing as informal labour providers and supplying workers into legitimate businesses. The food industry in particular relies on complex global supply chains. It depends on the recruitment of short-term unskilled labour to grow and pack food – often with tight deadlines.

‘Fresh produce has the additional pressure of peak seasons – in terms of harvests or customer demand. Think of the imminent customer rush for turkeys and Brussels sprouts for our Christmas dinners. These peaks create further requirement for short-term workers. All these factors combine to create an environment where unscrupulous labour providers often thrive.

‘But it isn’t just food industries – it’s closer than you may think. Many of us are unaware how closely we are coming into contact with modern-day slavery practices such as human trafficking and forced labour in our daily lives. The areas of our lives affected by forced labour are many and varied with forced labour existing in the hospitality, domestic, beauty and construction industries to name a few.

‘By buying goods and services produced – at least in part – by these exploitative practices we are unwittingly funding them.

‘More needs to be done to ensure that businesses across the board are taking a proactive approach to their due diligence on the issue.

The programme launches as a new study* by the University of Hull and YouGov shows confusion around the issue of modern day slavery:

  • Over a third (34%) of adults are unaware whether that modern day slavery practices are used in the production of fresh foods.
  • 1 in 5 of UK adults (21%) say that they believe that slavery is not something that occurs in the UK today.
  • Over 1 in 10 UK adults (13%) agree that slavery is something that existed in the past but doesn’t happen today.

The University of Hull and YouGov study* also suggests that people want more ethical practices from businesses.

  • 84% of UK adults would be concerned if they became aware that modern-day slavery practices such as forced labour and human trafficking were used within the production of the fresh food product(s) they purchased.
  • 77% of UK adults would consider changing to a more ethical alternative if they became aware that modern-day slavery practices were used within the fresh food product(s) they purchased.
  • 88% of UK adults agree that companies should be mindful of the practices that are involved in making the products they sell.
  • 84% of UK adults agree that businesses should ensure that ethical practices are made a priority at every stage of their supply chains.

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The It’s Time to Break the Chain initiative outlines that the public could – and should – use their consumer power to put pressure on companies to ensure their supply chains are free of forced labour. People are encouraged to share #BreakTheChain to help influence businesses to take action against modern slavery practices such as forced labour and human trafficking in their supply chains.

Cristina explained: ‘As consumers we are often at a loss as to what we can do to help – but we can make a difference by being aware of issues and asking companies to report on the Modern Slavery Act. Businesses have a legal – and moral – responsibility to eradicate slavery from within their operations and their supply chains.

‘Due to the landmark legislation passed in the UK in 2015 – the Modern Slavery Act – any business in the country with an annual turnover of £36 million or above is required to provide a statement outlining the steps it has taken to ensure slavery does not exist in any part of its operations. Under this act, forced and compulsory labour is a form of modern slavery.

‘Yet only around 50% of businesses comply with the law. We are asking people to join us in influencing businesses to do more to identify and eliminate slavery from their supply chains by and sharing our #BreakTheChain.’

She concluded: ‘The power to make a change lies within the supply chains.’

People can find out more about the initiative and the issue of forced labour at www.hull.ac.uk/breakthechain

Adam Thompson from the National Crime Agency’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit added: 

‘Labour intensive industries, such as farming and food manufacturing, where temporary and irregular work are common, are high-risk sectors for forced labour.

 ‘Victims are often forced to live and work in dangerous and unhygienic conditions for little pay or with their wages controlled by the trafficker.

 ‘This type of crime exists throughout the country, with victims often hidden in plain sight.  This initiative by the Wilberforce Institute brings the issue into the public’s consciousness in a creative and impactful way.

 ‘The public plays a key role in helping us to tackle modern slavery. If you suspect that you, or someone you know may be a victim of labour exploitation, you can get support and make a report confidentially to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 121 700 or the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority on 0800 432 0804."

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