Victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are being offered jobs by retail giant the Co-op to help them rebuild their lives.
Survivors of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude are being given a four-week paid work placement in the Co-op’s food business.
The move is being supported by northern-based charity City Hearts, helping vulnerable people who may not have references or other paperwork.
The Co-op is drawing up a national “matching system” that will enable other companies to work with local charities to create jobs.
At least 13,000 people are estimated to have been slavery victims, although the figure is believed to be the tip of the iceberg.
Pippa Wicks, the Co-op Group’s deputy chief executive, said: “This heinous crime will only be stopped by Government, businesses and society working together.
“By creating employment opportunities we can ensure victims stay out of the evil clutches of their captors.
“Working with City Hearts we are creating a matching scheme that will put charities, in any part of the UK, in touch with employers that are willing to support victims of modern slavery find the dignity that paid, freely chosen employment provides.
“We appreciate our approach, which has been successful in our food business, is not the only way to create jobs for those rescued and I am sure with determination, joint working and innovative thinking, we can find further solutions that work across other sectors.”
Labour MP Frank Field, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said: “Modern slavery is the biggest injustice in the world today. Now that the Modern Slavery Act is on the statute book, the Co-op has set the pace on helping victims of slavery to begin to rebuild their lives through work.
Business picture of the day
“These efforts by the Co-op must not be underestimated and hopefully will quickly become industry policy.”
The Local Government Association said latest official figures reveal a “shocking” increase of almost half in the numbers of people referred as potential victims last summer, with 1,322 victims referred through July – September 2017, compared to 901 during the same period in 2016.
Simon Blackburn, who chairs the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Being forced into domestic servitude, being trafficked for work, or subject to exploitation is a horrendous fate, and one most of us can’t even imagine – but the sad truth is that there is a good chance that modern slavery is taking place in the towns, cities and villages where we live.”