Report shows worryingly low knowledge of modern slavery in the UK

Over 100,00 people are connected to modern slavery in the UK, yet the financial sector knows nothing about it

Nearly half of bankers and other finance staff don’t know about the nature and scale of modern slavery – nor how their business is involved in the abuse, suggests a new study Led by Dame Sara Thornton, the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

Carried out in partnership with Themis and the TRIBE Freedom Foundation, Preventing Human Slavery & Human Trafficking shows how finance is at the heart of modern slavery – a multi-million-pound industry – and calls on leaders to take a stand against it.

An estimated 130,000 people are connected to slavery and exploitation in the UK. Yet, the study found that 45% of senior managers are unaware that modern slavery exists in the UK in Briton and 30% of financial services employees do not believe modern slavery is happening in the UK.

A third (36%) of financial industry employees think that their organisation can’t influence or combat modern slavery. Sixty-eight per cent of financial industry employees surveyed did not believe the subject had been raised more than “a few times” by senior management, if at all, in the last 12 months.

Dame Sara Thornton, UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said: “I have written to the CEOs of major financial institutions asking them to respond to the worrying findings that this report highlights and let me know what they are going to do to address modern slavery and human trafficking within their organisations.”

Globally millions of people are exploited in the workplace, on farms, in factories, or as cleaners. Five years ago, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into force – but this study found that the legislation has had a limited impact on protecting the lives of those vulnerable to exploitation. 

In reality, many financial institutions appear to treat it as a tick box exercise, doing only the minimum required by law. Many don’t comply with the act at all.

Too many financial institutions that publish a modern slavery statement focus only on the business’s direct impacts, without acknowledging the wider implications of their investments, lending, and client relationships.

For example, assets under management (AUM) at the world’s 500 largest asset managers exceeded $100trn (£76.8trn) for the first- time last year. This new study asks: what are those assets, and are they linked to exploitation and labour abuse?

The study polled 1001 professionals from the financial services industry, and landed on a few key recommendations:

  • Leaders should set the tone at the top by taking a stand against abusive practices in their supply chains and business activities
  • Banks and financial services companies should undertake regular due diligence to check for abusive practices in their supply chains and investments
  • Banks and financial services companies should integrate modern slavery red flags into their existing money laundering control frameworks 

Dickon Johnstone, CEO of Themis, says, “financial institutions need to take a good look at their core business activities, and understand where their money is going and what types of business it is enabling. I challenge any senior manager who says their organisation has no links to modern slavery to prove it.

“There are 40 million people in slavery in the world, so chances are your institution will have either direct or indirect links to modern slavery and human trafficking somewhere within your operations, your supply chains or in those businesses you lend to or invest in. Don’t turn a blind eye – do something about it.”
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