Lewisham Council has renewed its commitment to a “zero-tolerance” approach to modern day slavery and human trafficking.  

Mayor and cabinet approved the council’s latest MDS statement for the year ahead on Wednesday (February 10). 

The statement, postponed a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, sets out how the council plans to tackle the “abhorrent crime” in the year ahead.  

Priorities include improving protection and support for survivors, encouraging suppliers to consider their obligations in tackling the issue, and increasing uptake on MDS training.  

It also plans to expand its work with the Human Trafficking Foundation and audit suppliers with a higher supply chain risk for MDS.  

More specifically it plans to develop and promote information sheets for the public explaining what to do if they have concerns about someone.  

The council plans to ensure that all bespoke contracts include MDS clauses and to challenge abnormally low tenders it comes across.   

It also plans to ask suppliers what specific actions they have taken to combat MDS.  

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Presenting the report on the statement, Cllr Brenda Dacres, cabinet member for safer communities, revealed some stark figures.  

She said: “Modern day slavery is defined as any form of exploitation that is so severe that people are not able to leave their place of work.  

“It can include sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced labour, forced marriage, illegal adoption, criminal exploitation, and exploitation of a minor.  

“Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive, and force individuals into a life of abuse and inhumane treatment. 

“The council has a crucial role as a public sector organisation to identify, recognise, and raise awareness and disrupt this abhorrent crime. 

“Officers have informed me of some of the harrowing statistics about modern day slavery, which have honestly shocked me, but which are important for me to share this evening to indicate the gravity of this statement.” 

Cllr Dacres said figures from the International Labour Organisation suggest that there are more than 40 million people in modern day slavery across the world - 71 per cent are female and 29 per cent male.  

15.4 million are in forced marriages, and 24.9 million are in forced labour. One in four modern day slavery victims are children.  

In the UK the number of people who are victims of modern day slavery has been rising year on year, with over 10,000 people referred to the authorities in 2019.  

She said: “In the year ending March 2019, more than 5,144 modern slavery offences were recorded by the police in England and Wales. This was an increase of 51 per cent from the previous year. 

“While the increase in the number of modern day slavery offences recorded may partly be due to greater awareness of the crime, and improvements in recording and reporting, the figures and statistics show how important it is that we must continue to work towards eradicating it.  

“Although these figures are indicative of the occurrence of slavery, the recorded offences are thought to be very conservative […] 

“For example, the 2018 global slavery index forecasted that there would be 136,000 people in modern day slavery in the UK. 

“If this was spread proportionately through the population nationwide, it would suggest that there were around 700 people in modern day slavery in Lewisham.

“The council is resolutely committed to oppose modern day slavery and human trafficking and we will take a zero -tolerance approach to modern day slavery in all its forms.”