Jan 26 2021| Leadership
by Phil Eyre Founder
Tian* and Thanda* are a young married couple who work in the hospitality industry, cooking, cleaning and preparing for guests. They met in tumultuous conditions, escaping a murderous purge of their home villages before finding work in the city and then further afield. They recently arrived in a new country to take up work, with the promise of income and accommodation. On arrival, they were met by an older man who they learned they would be living with. He soon laid down the law, taking control and making it clear that, if they were to live and work, certain “favours” would be required - from the young wife. Work also wasn’t quite what they were led to believe. With the onset of Coronavirus, Tian and Thanda felt stuck and they fell into an abusive pattern that by now felt very familiar to them.
Pause for a moment. Where do you think this couple are living?
The county is Guernsey and I heard this story whilst working with an organisation last year*. This is despite the fact that the Channel Islands are amongst the richest countries in the world, with tight immigration laws, protective legal framework and a community that substantially wants to ‘do the right thing’. Worryingly, I’m told that Tian and Thanda’s story is not an isolated one. There are many that find themselves stuck in what might otherwise be called servitude.
If this is happening in our island, I can only imagine the abuses that occur in cities, towns and villages with lesser conditions. According to advocacy-group A21, there are more people enslaved now - over 40million - than at any time in history.
Modern Day Slavery
I was prompted to this line of thought, and this article, by moonpig.com. As part of their procurement process for our services, I was asked to complete a modern-day slavery questionnaire, setting out how we ensure that we are not engaging in this abhorrent practice. It’s the first time that I’ve been presented with such a questionnaire and my initial thought was that - as a small professional services business - it’s not an applicable document to us. However, it quickly became clear that there are ways that even we - with just six employees/consultants - can and should contribute to the eradication of modern-day slavery.
This is especially so as the whole purpose of the business that I have started - Leaders - is that every workplace is a place where the people flourish and thrive. When I started this business, I was gripped - and remain so - by a vision for “better work”, having observed too many people grinding through their working lives. “Every workplace” is deliberately ambitious and will outlive my own work and life; it is the movement towards ‘good work for all’ that is compelling. In fact, this vision is part of what connected us to moonpig.com to begin with, seeking to enhance the people-leadership skills in the business which in turn benefits not only leaders and supervisors but front-line employees too.
Here are some actions, that, in our own small way, I can ensure that our business is contributing towards the eradication of modern-day slavery:
In the same way that I am prompted by moonpig.com, I can prompt our suppliers to confirm that they have anti-modern day slavery processes and considerations in place. For example, my office gets cleaned, I’ve previously presumed our cleaners are properly employed. We only deal with “reputable” suppliers and make presumptions about the quality of their processes. It can’t hurt to ask the question
Encourage our suppliers to, in turn, ask similar questions of their own suppliers too.
Encourage our clients to consider their approach to tacking modern-day slavery. How are goods and services procured? For some, procurement has become challenging, with supply chains disrupted. In the rush to secure new sources of materials and product, are we considering how these are being produced?
Discuss the topic with my team, afterall, if I wasn’t prompted to consider it then perhaps, they have not too. Raising awareness of an issue is the first step towards defeating it. Self-awareness is an important skill for leaders to develop.
It would be unrealistic to investigate every purchase, but there are a few things that I can do:
A call to action
Work can and should be a means of thriving, providing for the wellbeing and creativity of everyone, not just a fortunate few. Take a moment even (and perhaps particularly) in the midst of these challenging times to consider how your business is contributing to the wellbeing of your entire employee-chain, not only those in your immediate employ. If you would like to explore this further with me, I’d be delighted, let’s get a (virtual) coffee date arranged.