Modern Slavery: Matilda Ashurst Anti-Slavery Fellow Grant

ESG Matters Modern Slavery: Matilda Ashurst Anti-Slavery Fellow Grant: transcript

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Transcript



Helena Yeaman:

Hello. My name is Helena Yeaman and I am the social impact manager for modern slavery in Ashurst. This year, we are celebrating 200 years of Ashurst and there are many activities taking place throughout the year to mark this significant milestone. The pro bono and social impact team particularly wanted to honor our founder, William Ashurst, who was a progressive advocate, deeply committed to social justice, particularly women's equality, and the abolition of slavery. Furthermore, William's four daughters, Elizabeth, Matilda, Caroline, and Emily, poured their energy into the fight to abolish slavery and to obtain equality for women. What William's daughters achieved in their lifetime was remarkable and we chose to name four of our key initiatives after them in our modern slavery action plan, which recognizes the continued vote of all forms of modern slavery and where we, as a firm, have a role in combating slavery and the steps we can take to achieve this with our colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders.

Helena Yeaman:

Through this, we not only connect our future efforts to the Ashurst family's historical work, we also pay a long overdue public tribute to William's four incredible daughters. This episode is first in a four part series to talk about each Ashurst daughter and their legacy.

Helena Yeaman:

Today, we're discussing why we set up the Matilda Ashurst Anti-Slavery Fellow Grant and what that involved. We know that Matilda was a passionate advocate for the abolition of slavery and continued her abolition efforts throughout her life. For example, she developed an international network of like-minded thinkers and befriended American abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Lucretia Mott. Matilda attended the world anti-slavery convention with William Ashurst in 1840 and is described as having been aroused in white heat over the treatment of female campaigners in attendance. The Anti-Slavery Society, which was a precursor to Anti-Slavery International, otherwise known as ASI, was also in attendance, which is why we decided to set up the Matilda Ashurst Anti-Slavery Fellow Grant, as this 10 year funding commitment plays a key role in ASI efforts to eradicate slavery. Our guest today is the CEO of ASI, Jasmine O'Connor OBE, who's going to tell us more about their work and how the Matilda Ashurst Grant has benefited them as an organization, so that we can understand more about Matilda's legacy.

Helena Yeaman:

Jasmine, can you tell us a little bit about ASI and it's evolution and focus today?

Jasmine O'Connor:

Absolutely. Anti-slavery actually has its roots in the original movement to abolish the slave trade, something that was finally achieved in act of parliament in 1807. And since then, anti-slavery and it's many, many allies around the world have been pushing for slavery and an end to slavery like practices in every country. I don't know whether you know, but the last country to do this was in 1981, I mean, was [inaudible 00:03:21] where we actually do have some programs. And today, our purpose is very, very clear, it's to make slavery a thing of the past and ensure freedom from slavery for everyone, everywhere. A lot of people still, I find, think that slavery ended with the transatlantic slave trade, but of course, that isn't true, and today there are over 40 million people in modern slavery. So while the chains and cuffs are no longer common, there are invisible chains of deception, debt bondage, and then laws that just aren't effective enough to protect people from being trafficked and enslaved. So that's why we exist. We do what we do because the problem is out there and our legacy continues today.

Helena Yeaman:

Thanks. I mean, 40 million across the globe, that is just terrifying. I mean, what do we say to our listeners who don't think that slavery is in their backyard? A lot of people might be listening from the UK or Australia and think, oh, well, there's no slavery where we live. Can you perhaps give us examples or discuss what's happening in plain sight?

Jasmine O'Connor:

Absolutely. I think that's a really good question because, as you say, you don't see the visible signs unless you really understand what you are looking for. So in the UK, there are numerous industries and numerous ways in which people enslaved. Think of county lines, for example, drug trafficking, where young people are forced into criminality through, often, very violent threats. Think, for example, of forced labor on fruit farms, where people are getting forced into labor with perhaps their passports having been taken away so that they can't leave, they might have insecure immigration status, and so that's something that a trafficker might exploit. All sorts of examples.

Jasmine O'Connor:

In fact, if you think of any industry or any kind of commerce, there is likely to be some kind of forced labor in it at some point. And we tend to work with the drivers of modern slavery, so understanding the sort of intersection, if you like, of poverty, weak laws, discrimination, the things that combine to make someone vulnerable and enable someone to exploit another human being. And when we're trying to tackle slavery, that's what we focus on, trying to get a change to those drivers to the systems, if you like, that underpin this huge problem.

Helena Yeaman:

What has the Matilda Ashurst Anti-Slavery Fellow Grant meant to ASI?

Jasmine O'Connor:

Well, since 2020, the Matilda Ashurst Fellowship has enabled ASI to fund parts of two absolutely critical roles. So firstly, our UK and Europe manager, now this role is really important for a global organization like anti-slavery because we know, as I've just explained, slavery happens in the UK as well as overseas, and so, as a global organization, we want to be working on slavery at home and abroad and bringing it to an end. So it's really important that we have the people power to be able to put pressure on our own government to protect people who are in or vulnerable to slavery and, in a sense, to do at home what we do around the world. So we're working to engage parliamentarians right across the political spectrum to push for improvements on how survivors are identified and supported on their road to full recovery. And it's the case in the UK that victims of slavery are more likely to be criminalized and rates of conviction for traffickers are woefully low so we think the government needs to do more in this country to reassert its focus on modern slavery.

Helena Yeaman:

So Jasmine, what does this mean in practice?

Jasmine O'Connor:

Well, in the UK, our work really has focused on understanding the experiences of people who have been in slavery and beginning to really make sure that their voices are being listened to in the work to change policy because, from our understanding of anti-slavery, you're only going to get good policy and good law if you really understand the dynamics of slavery and the people who understand those dynamics are, well, they're the traffickers, actually, and they're the people who've been enslaved. So we are working very closely with survivors to make sure that their experiences and understanding get out there.

Jasmine O'Connor:

So in 21 and 22, we worked with survivors to create podcasts and reports on their experiences and make sure that really, we are able to push the UK government to reform its support system for survivors of slavery so that it becomes fairer, is informed by the traumatic experiences that people have had, and is supportive enough to heal people and support people to rebuild their lives because, actually, that helps to prevent slavery as well. When people's lives are rebuilt, they are less likely to be pulled back into trafficking or pulled back into vulnerability.

Helena Yeaman:

Yeah, that's really important, isn't it? Because so many people do end up being re-exploited because they're so vulnerable and it's so hard to get out. Can we just explore this a bit further? Is there an inconsistency between what survivors need and what the experts think they need?

Jasmine O'Connor:

Yeah, there is. There really is. And the recent research that was undertaken by survivors and published by anti-slavery partners at the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group found that support that was provided to survivors by the UK government was actually woefully inconsistent and was sometimes putting survivors at risk again. And so really, one of the key takeaways is that every survivor is on a different journey and a different course, and every journey to recovery is also therefore unique. And so, our systems and the provisions that are made have got to be really person centered, and that's a challenge to get any kind of government set up or bureaucracy to be person centered, to make sure that really, the support is defined by the individual who is needing the support. So that's really, I guess, one of the key takeaways that we are advocating for now.

Helena Yeaman:

That's so important. Yeah. I was recently seconded to the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner's office and that came across loud and clear, as well as the other key issue is around migration status. And so, first of all, there's not one size fits all in terms of the survivors of slavery, they all have such complex and different needs, but I thought that this was rather exacerbated by their problems around migration. What are your thoughts on that?

Jasmine O'Connor:

We certainly have found in research that we've undertaken that people with irregular migration status in the UK are over four times less likely to be identified as victims of trafficking. They often don't come forward in the first place, then as a consequence aren't provided with the relevant support and protection. And this, again, in turn, leads to the crime of trafficking not being recognized and perpetrators being left free to carry on as normal. I think one definite concern that we have is with the new Nationality and Borders Act because this puts so much higher onus on survivors of modern slavery and trafficking to have committed no crime in order for them to be supported. And if you consider that 49% of people are exploited in different forms of criminal activity, it again means that people are having these barriers to support. So if an individual has insecure immigration status and has, often as a result of their slavery, committed a crime, then they're doubly less likely to get the support that they need and get full recovery because they simply won't be coming forward for fear of being criminalized.

Helena Yeaman:

That's such a good point, Jasmine. And I think perhaps it might be useful just to give an example to our listeners with regards to what sort of criminal activity these people are vulnerable to.

Jasmine O'Connor:

Yeah. I mean, there's all sorts of examples and obviously county lines in the UK, British born victims and those from other countries being effectively forced to either grow and, or sell drugs as a part of the trafficker's criminal outfit. And obviously, those two activities are illegal in this country and indeed, individuals who are forced into that will undoubtedly be fearful of coming forward.

Helena Yeaman:

And in terms of other countries, can you think of an example, perhaps for the other side of the globe with our Australian listeners? I know that legislation is different there obviously, but similar problems with criminal activity and being afraid to come forward. Can you think of any examples?

Jasmine O'Connor:

I think a lot of the countries that we work in globally tend to be countries where the mechanisms are sometimes slightly different and the jurisdictions, every jurisdiction is different. I've got no doubt that very similar examples will exist in Australia. The work that we tend to do around the world is very often with victims of trafficking in different industries, in different countries, and often immigration status can play a part.

Jasmine O'Connor:

So for example, in the Middle East, there is a quite a number of people who are trafficked for either laboring type jobs from maybe parts of Africa and they might come on a tied visa to do that job. And then what happens is maybe that job ends for some reason and they've been effectively tied to that employer and the job ends for some reason, and then of course their immigration status effectively is insecure because that's been tied to that employer and then they might find work with another employer and then actually that employer exploits them and they aren't able to sort of come forward for support because they're in that insecure immigration status and would be deported or would be imprisoned. So that, I guess, is an example of the way this sort of criminality around immigration status can work in different jurisdictions.

Helena Yeaman:

Can you tell me a bit about the second critical role that the Matilda Ashurst Fellowship is supporting?

Jasmine O'Connor:

Yeah, absolutely. This is the support for our business and human rights manager. Our work on business and human rights really tackles slavery as a part of the challenge in our global supply chains. I think one area that role is working on is that of state sponsored force labor. So for example, where cotton is picked by citizens forced into fields each harvest time by the government. You might be a doctor or a teacher or a school child and at harvest time, that's it. Stop what you're doing. You're forced to go and pick cotton with absolutely no choice in the matter. And we work with a coalition of allies to get businesses to pledge not to source state sponsored forced labor made goods. So we're working with government officials, the UN, to take action as well and pushing forward the right kind of policies.

Jasmine O'Connor:

We actually worked 10 years on this issue in Uzbekistan and this past year saw a really positive response with the Uzbek government. Actually, it was reported that there was no forced labor evidence in last year's harvest, that was independently verified by the ILO, so progress does get made. I think the other area on that, the business and human rights side, is that since 2017, we've been progressing a global response to the issue by pressing for legislation to implement what we call mandatory human rights due diligence for companies operating in the EU, and this would mean that we have a law that really makes sure that businesses actually have to consider human rights fully in all of their work, both the way that they do business, but also their supply chains.

Helena Yeaman:

Thank you. That's amazing. It's really good to hear good stories as well and the Uzbekistan example, I mean, I wondered if you had another good story you could tell us in terms of, we hear so much negativity and it's really depressing, but it's good to hear what does work and what is working and where government does change and the wins that... Have you had any exciting wins over the last 12 months that you might give us an example of?

Jasmine O'Connor:

Well, I think there's all sorts of incremental wins, sometimes I don't feel as big as I want them to feel, but I think one of the other areas which is quite exciting that we've been working on is a marine Cargo Clause. So we've been working with our partners to look at a clause that basically places a clause in marine cargo insurance to stop slavery and that means that you can't get your goods shipped if you haven't taken the right kind of steps to address slavery. And basically, that clause is being adopted by numerous insurance companies and brokers and is effectively an initiative in the private sector that is shifting the needle and creating change. From where we sit as anti-slavery, you need this tripartite response of, I guess, civil society and private individuals acting, as well as business, as well as government, and so that's quite an exciting development.

Helena Yeaman:

That's so true. That's so important. Absolutely. And it's about influence, isn't it? And they, as you say, with the civil society, business and government, when all three are working together, that's where change really happens. So we began our partnership back in 2020, has our partnership helped in any other ways?

Jasmine O'Connor:

Well, I think that there's a couple of really exciting ways that you've helped in addition to that which I've just described. Firstly, we've loved having the Caroline Ashurst Awardee. So we had our first awardee come and work with us, Adela Mackey, I think last year, wasn't it? And she came as a [inaudible 00:28:14] to work with us, did a whole bunch of work, did some fantastic research on climate change with us, supported us in running events, in doing briefings, et cetera, and gave, I guess, a really helpful perspective on our work coming from a slightly different walk of life and as an individual who was just going into your firm, starting her career, I think was a fantastic way, if you like, of creating champions to call for the end of slavery so it excites me to know that she's going to go on in her career with that understanding and those perspectives. So that, I think, was great. It was lovely having her with us and I know that we'll be hosting another one soon, which is really exciting.

Jasmine O'Connor:

The other thing really is that we really enjoy the pro bono support that you give us and that comes in all sorts of ways, whether it's letting us use your lovely offices for our AGM or whether it's actually providing the kind of legal advice that we need from time to time. I think, really because of what we do creating systemic change to end slavery, we need support in all sorts of different ways and really being able to have support with, whether it's our safeguarding efforts, whether it's advising us on our contracts and negotiations or specific legal issues, it's really been helpful. And if people are listening to this, there's lots of pro bono to get stuck into so if you're interested then I would urge you to talk directly with Helena and see how you might engage.

Helena Yeaman:

Thank you. Yes. And I should say, certainly with regards to the Caroline Ashurst Award, that is a two-way stream and we really enjoyed having Adela join the firm having had six months experience with you, she's now a fantastic ambassador for the cause but also she comes in the firm as a specialist knowing more about modern slavery than most of her colleagues, so that was a really great opportunity for her too. And yes, absolutely, with regards to pro bono, that's just part of our DNA, it's really important to us, particularly with our relationship with you we want to offer as much pro bono support as we can around modern slavery so absolutely, just keep on asking.

Jasmine O'Connor:

Brilliant. We will.

Helena Yeaman:

So it can seem a little overwhelming if you don't know much about the subject of modern slavery or you weren't aware that it's happening in your own backyard, so to speak. What would you say to the listener who wants to help and doesn't know where to start?

Jasmine O'Connor:

I would say the first place to start is to get educated, learn a little more about it. There's lots of great guides, resources, articles on our website, which is www.antislavery.org and there's lots of resources on there that you can look at that will help you learn about slavery both here in the UK and also in other jurisdictions around the world. So check that out. The main thing, I guess, to look at is understanding it internationally but also in your own jurisdiction, so here in the UK, make sure you check that out and you don't fall into this trap that it's all happening overseas and it's not happening here. And then I think some practical ways really are to make conscious decisions with your purchases. So find out where your clothing, where your coffee, where your chocolate is coming from and really create awareness around that with your friends and your family.

Jasmine O'Connor:

Then, of course, there are campaigns that anti-slavery runs from time to time. For example, if we are seeking to influence legal change, we might run campaigns to create awareness with MPs or to create awareness with businesses, for example. So look out for that as well and if you want become a member of anti-slavery, or a supporter of anti-slavery, there's information on our website there that you can pick up as well so we can get those actions to you if you want to do that. I think the final area that I'd probably say is, certainly considering that you're a law firm is, understand where the law is going and talk to your clients about it because the trajectory, the direction of travel, is more law that is there to tackle things like supply chain slavery and really, good businesses need to be getting ahead of that curve so do consider bringing it into those conversations as appropriate.

Helena Yeaman:

Thank you. I think that's really helpful. So yeah, it's about education, educating ourselves, and those small changes that we can make. And I think that's true, I mean, we all know about, or most of us know about, sourcing coffee or chocolate and I think we're becoming more aware with clothing and certainly some of our large clothing businesses in fashion are being much more transparent about how they're sourcing their cotton and which factories they're working with and making sure that supply chain is as good as can possibly be. From our part, it's an enormous privilege to work with you and to learn from your expertise. We hope to continue our relationship beyond our 10 year commitment and to continue to educate and empower our colleagues and clients and other networks to get involved in the anti-slavery movement. So thank you so much for your time, Jasmine.

Jasmine O'Connor:

You're more than welcome. It's a pleasure and I think it's just a fantastic partnership and the commitment you've made gives us the power, if you like, for us to continue to fight slavery, so thank you.


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