Q&A: cracking down on slavery at airports with Slave-Free Alliance

Abi Millar 12 November 2019 (Last Updated October 18th, 2019 11:42)

MAG, the owner of Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports, recently joined the Slave-Free Alliance. MAG chief customer officer explains what this new membership entails and how it will help it tackle the risk of modern slavery within its airports.

Q&A: cracking down on slavery at airports with Slave-Free Alliance
MAG Airports will collaborate with the Slave-Free Alliance by shining a brighter light on its supply chain, cracking down on practices such as exploitation, trafficking or forced labour. (Credit: Pexels).

In July, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) became the first UK operator to join the Slave-Free Alliance. Launched by the anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice, the Slave-Free Alliance is a membership initiative for businesses. Its goal is simple: to help them expunge modern slavery from their supply chains.

As the owner of Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports, MAG sees 60 million people passing through its airports each year and employs over 40,000 people on site. This is not to mention the many others involved in its wider operations. Through working with the Slave-Free Alliance, the group will shine a brighter light on its supply chain, cracking down on practices such as exploitation, trafficking or forced labour.

Tricia Williams, chief customer officer at MAG, tells AIR what membership of the Slave-Free Alliance will mean, and why this is such an important issue for the aviation sector.

Abi Millar: In July, MAG became the UK’s first airport operator to sign up to the Slave-Free Alliance. How did this decision come about?

Tricia Williams: Because we’re a large company, we’re required by the Modern Slavery Act to publish a Modern Slavery Statement every year. This outlines all of the actions we’ve taken to protect our supply chain and wider operations from the risk of modern slavery.

As a responsible business, we wanted to go above what was legally required. To do that properly, in a way that was tailored to our business, we reached out to organisations that are as passionate as we are about tackling the threat of modern slavery, to see how they could help.

The Slave-Free Alliance offered us the expertise we needed to take an in-depth look at our operations and supply chain, and to see where we could go the extra mile to safeguard those involved in our wider operations.

AM: Slave-Free Alliance is a membership scheme for businesses that want to tackle exploitation in their operations and supply chains. Can you provide more details about how the enterprise works and what it’s looking to achieve?

TW: Slave-Free Alliance is a social enterprise. It’s owned by the anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice and supports businesses in preventing slavery in their supply chains and operations. They do this by independently reviewing each business and developing processes to help them combat modern slavery.

A wide range of organisations are members of Slave-Free Alliance, including large companies such as Aviva, AstraZeneca and The University of Manchester, as well as smaller SMEs. For its partnership with MAG, this means working together to see if there are any areas where we can further safeguard our business and supply chain operations from modern slavery.

AM: How will MAG and the Slave-Free Alliance work together to identify and combat the risk of modern slavery?

TW: We’ll be taking a collaborative approach to develop a strategy which is bespoke to MAG, and will allow us continuously improve our approach to preventing modern slavery.

At the moment our main priority is working with the Alliance to conduct a gap analysis, which will audit our current controls and ways of working. The Alliance will then provide us with recommendations on how we can do as much as possible to safeguard against modern slavery. Once we have these recommendations, we can update our existing action plan for continuous improvement.

AM: MAG is also creating its own processes for combating modern slavery, including a staff education programme. Can you tell me more about that?

TW: One of the actions from our latest Modern Slavery Statement was to introduce a compulsory e-learning module for all MAG colleagues, solely focused on educating them about modern slavery. This module explains how colleagues across our business could help to identify individuals or groups of people who might be victims of modern slavery. We see this module as a proactive step forward so that all of our employees feel educated and empowered to take appropriate action if they think it necessary.

We also recognise Anti-Slavery Day, held this year on the 18 October. We issued communications across MAG that raised awareness around the issue, making sure it is kept at the forefront of our colleagues’ minds.

By doing these things, we are all working together. Everyone at MAG has the ability and responsibility to identify, report and ultimately protect anyone who is a victim of modern slavery – be they in our business, travelling through our airports or working in our supply chain.

AM: Do you think the airport industry in general needs to do more to tackle these kinds of issues within its supply chain? What are some of the key areas of concern?

TW: An airport comprises a vast and complex network of partnerships and relationships. At MAG, all three of our airports, as well all other airports in the UK, work alongside hundreds of partners who deliver vital services such as cleaning, hospitality and retail.

By becoming a member of the Slave-Free Alliance we’re making sure there is transparency throughout our supply chain and wider operations so that nobody can be exploited – this is something that should be replicated by other airports across the UK.

AM: How has the partnership been going so far, and what are your goals in the short-term and over the longer term?

TW: From the outset, our goal has always been to ensure anyone working at, or in association with our airports is being treated legally and fairly by their employer and that they feel safe coming to work, with the ability to speak freely without fear of the consequences.

In order to make this a reality, the long-term goal is to bring together the commitments of our Modern Slavery Statement and the recommendations of the Alliance to ensure we are working within the most robust framework possible to proactively prevent any instances of modern slavery.

There is no reason for modern slavery to exist in our society, and we are working hard to ensure it doesn’t happen in connection with our business.