The Co-op is set to provide jobs to victims of modern slavery to put an end to the “terrible, unspeakable cycle of enslavement”.
The group will offer a month of paid work experience to 30 survivors in its food business, after which it will interview candidates for permanent roles.
The initiative is part of a partnership with charity City Hearts, which offers housing and “restorative care” to survivors of human trafficking.
The first beneficiary of the Co-op scheme is now working in a store in the North West. Co-op CEO Steve Murrells said the new employee’s “harrowing story” underlined the need to offer practical help.
“It is clear to me that victims need to be supported while they rebuild their lives and central to that is the dignity that paid, freely chosen employment provides,” he said. “Without this, there is a real chance that they could fall back into the hands of those who have exploited them and for the terrible, unspeakable cycle of enslavement to begin again.
“Modern slavery will only be stopped by government, businesses and society working together to ensure supply chains are transparent, so giving this shocking crime no shadow to hide in,” Murrells added.
Sarah Newton MP, minister for vulnerability, safeguarding and countering extremism, said she was pleased to see the Co-op taking action. “The private sector has a vital role to play in eradicating this barbaric crime and I hope that this positive project will inspire other businesses to take action in the future,” she said.
In 2013, the Home Office estimated there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK, and heavily exporting countries such as China and India are thought to have far higher numbers.
The government introduced the modern slavery act in 2015 to ensure UK businesses took steps to minimise the problem, which Theresa May branded “the great human rights issue of our time”. Businesses with turnovers of £36m or more must now publish a statement on their website detailing what they are doing in their supply chains to address the risk of slavery and human trafficking.
A number of food and drink businesses have recently upped their efforts in this area, including Sainsbury’s, which launched three new training courses for suppliers in December.