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Values and vigilance: helping to fight modern slavery and human trafficking from the frontline

Many of the services we provide bring our people into direct contact with members of the public and, in certain parts of our business, acutely disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals travelling through challenging systems, such as those for justice and immigration. We understand the complex social challenges that shape and permeate our chosen markets, so we know that certain service user communities are particularly vulnerable to modern slavery and human trafficking. At the same time, we recognise that certain public services are more likely to be targeted for facilitating these practices.

To help our customers address these challenges and make a real difference to people’s lives, we welcome responsibilities beyond simply facilitating service user journeys – either through public systems such as health, education, employment, justice and immigration, or literally, through our transport services. Human rights and wellbeing are integral elements in our service design and delivery and we work to achieve positive, sustainable outcomes for society and the individuals in our care. Wherever they work, our people are alert and attentive to the needs of those they serve, which includes taking appropriate action if they suspect someone is at risk of harm, including any form of abuse or exploitation.

That is why we have launched a new modern slavery and human trafficking response and remediation guidance and process. Deployed at the end of 2020, the new guidance and process has been developed to make it easier for everyone in Serco to recognise the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking and take appropriate action in response. It explains what we expect of Serco employees in helping us to safeguard our service users against modern slavery and human trafficking, what these practices are and their most common forms, how to recognise potential victims, and what action to take.

Our new response and remediation guidance and process scales up the proactive safeguarding culture, policy and practice already well-established in certain parts of our business, including Northlink Ferries and Serco Employment, Skills and Enterprise in the UK, and our Immigration operations in both the UK and Australia.

For these operations, we employ dedicated service user welfare and safeguarding leads to maintain comprehensive safeguarding  policies and processes; to equip our people through training with the knowledge and information they need to respond to any concerns; and to work in partnership with all relevant authorities and agencies to ensure that any risks to our service users are identified and reported as quickly as possible, and that they can access appropriate help and support when needed.

Serco Employment, Skills and Enterprise manages the Inspiring Families programme in North and East London, helping people to improve their personal and family circumstances and get back into work.

“We support disadvantaged families with specific barriers to sustainable employment,” says Foysal Ahmed, Head of Employability and Adult Skills for Work, “some of whom are migrant families and others whose circumstances make them vulnerable. Breaking down these barriers can reveal hidden issues, including abuse and exploitation. We aim to provide a caring, supportive and safe environment in which all learners can develop to their full potential. Everyone who helps us deliver the service has a responsibility for the welfare and safety of our learners, which includes reporting any concerns immediately to a designated safeguarding officer.”

Through Northlink Ferries, we operate lifeline ferry services between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney and Shetland islands.

“As a public transport operator there is always a risk of groups and individuals using our services to facilitate criminal activity, including illegal movement of drugs and people,” says Stuart Garrett, NorthLink Ferries Managing Director. “We play a key role in the hospitality, tourism and food supply chain – all of which are recognised high risk industries for modern slavery. It is our duty to ensure that our staff are fully aware and alert to suspicious or vulnerable behaviour among our passengers and visitors. All staff learn about modern slavery and human trafficking in the training they receive and are ready to report any concerns to the authorities.”

Through our Asylum Accommodation and Support Services Contract, we assist asylum seekers while their claims are processed, ensuring they have a good standard of accommodation, a safe environment to live in and access to appropriate support.

“Asylum seekers can become increasingly vulnerable to slavery and trafficking during their journey to the UK,” says Katy Wood Business Support Director. “There are also risks of being drawn into it once in the UK, owing to the limited financial support they have access to whilst awaiting an outcome on their claim, and particularly for those exiting the system with a negative decision from the Home Office, as they are ineligible for both mainstream support and employment opportunities.

“We see it as our responsibility to ensure adequate care and support is in place for every asylum seeker whilst accommodated with us, and we do all that we can to keep them safe. Our safeguarding, partnership and risk and security teams work closely with local modern slavery partnerships and police/statutory agency task forces to protect our service users, and to identify and refer potential victims for Modern Slavery Victim Care eligibility assessment. We also liaise with the Home Office regarding support system improvements where these can be identified.”

Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) houses adult men and women awaiting immigration process outcomes.

“One reason why they are particularly vulnerable,” says Penny Wainwright, Assistant Director, Yarl’s Wood IRC, “is that if they are victims of modern slavery, they may not realise it. As well as training our people to recognise and report potential victims, we educate our residents about the dangers and help them speak up for themselves. For example, we have advisory notices in all resident languages around the site, and invite our anti-slavery partner, Unseen UK, to meet with residents at certain events in our calendar. We also focus on training all service delivery partners who visit the site. Residents are more likely to disclose to them, so we give them the same training as our employees and encourage them to engage with residents as much as possible.”

In Australia, our Immigration Welfare & Engagement Team are working closely with the Australian Red Cross with research in development of caseworker training focused on the identification of those at risk.

"We work with vulnerable people every day,” says Clare Camilleri, National Welfare & Engagement Manager, “and many have had some experience of modern slavery in one or more of its many forms. We are committed to providing the fullest support to those in our care, which includes ensuring our staff are aware of the issues that our service users might face. The Red Cross have been impressed by the maturity of Serco’s approach to tackling modern slavery and we are proud to be supporting their research. We look forward to piloting the training when it is ready and helping make a bigger difference in this area."