We do not yet know the full story of how 39 people came to be found dead in a lorry in Essex.
The deaths highlight the activities of ruthless people smugglers – and the connected issue of modern slavery, when those migrants who make it illegally to Britain are employed in black market sweat shops – and worse.
The issue has risen up the political agenda, with Hastings joining the ranks of authorities pledging to do all they can to tackle it.
By coincidence, even as the full extent of the Essex horror became known, Hastings councillors were debating the issue at a full council meeting at Muriel Matters House last Wednesday.
Council leader Peter Chowney moved a motion which commits the council to ensuring that all the companies it deals with comply with attempts to crack down on modern slavery practices.
The council would, for example, challenge any ‘abnormally low-cost tenders’ to ensure they do not rely upon the potential contractor practising modern slavery.
The motion was also backed by Conservative members of the authority and is now council policy.
Leah Levane, who seconded the motion, said of the latest tragedy: “British governments have not learned from the tragic deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004.
“As a local council, we may be limited in what we can do to address those causes, but we must do whatever we can. We know there is slavery in our town. If we fail to ‘join up the dots’, it will, of course, happen again.”
At the meeting, Maya Evans, the cabinet member for climate change, highlighted some of the many factors behind modern slavery from climate change itself to wars which displace millions from their homes.
The full text of the morion passed by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) is reproduced below:
HBC agrees to:
Train its corporate procurement team to understand modern slavery through the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply’s (CIPS) online course on Ethical Procurement and Supply. We also call on East Sussex County Council to adopt the same protocols…
1. Require its contractors to comply fully with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, wherever it applies, with contract termination as a potential sanction for non-compliance.
2. Challenge any abnormally low-cost tenders to ensure they do not rely upon the potential contractor practising modern slavery.
3. Highlight to its suppliers that contracted workers are free to join a trade union and are not to be treated unfairly for belonging to one.
4. Publicise its whistle-blowing system for staff to blow the whistle on any suspected examples of modern slavery.
5. Require its tendered contractors to adopt a whistle-blowing policy which enables their staff to blow the whistle on any suspected examples of modern slavery.
6. Review its contractual spending regularly to identify any potential issues with modern slavery.
7. Highlight for its suppliers any risks identified concerning modern slavery and refer them to the relevant agencies to be addressed.
8. Refer for investigation via the National Crime Agency’s national referral mechanism any of its contractors identified as a cause for concern regarding modern slavery.
9. Report publicly on the implementation of this policy annually.
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