Charity retail: dealing with modern slavery and labour exploitation

Charity shops are ethical organisations which seek to leave the world in a better state than they found it. We are aware that the textile waste and recycling sector is one of some risk when it comes to issues around modern slavery and labour exploitation. Charity retailers do sell on some donated items, which they cannot sell in the front of their shops, to textile traders.  They therefore want to be completely sure that they only ever deal with trustworthy recycling partners, and where to report issues when they come across them.

TRUST mark

This desire is behind the development of our TRUST mark for textile recyclers, which we will report on further in coming weeks. It is also why I was delighted to accept an invitation from the Co-Operative Group to attend a high level summit on combatting exploitation and modern slavery issues in the waste and recycling industry at their fantastic new headquarters in Manchester.

Many significant national employers and groups attended, including Sky, BBC, the Environment Agency, the Textile Recycling Association, Kingfisher, Biffa and of course the Co-op themselves.

The first issue we discussed was ensuring that agencies dealing with this issue look at it in a victim centric and supportive manner. The importance of a business being open and demonstrating to all staff and contractors that they are interested in their welfare was emphasised. 

Modern slavery in their supply chain

Businesses who discover modern slavery in their supply chain and should not be ashamed of this as they are victims too. They instead should see it as a positive that a number of people have been rescued because the company had good policies in place and was brave to follow them. This point was emphasised on several occasions and will hopefully begin a culture changes amongst all waste producers.

The group then moved onto discuss mapping to ensure that waste producers are aware of all of the links in the chain once they dispose of it.  This will be worked up by the various partners in the coming weeks and months.

Next steps

In terms of outputs, the group have decided to:

  • Create a stakeholder map to help suppliers and producers understand who all of the key players in the sector are
  • Find examples of good practice to promote the importance of reporting suspicions
  • Develop guidance documents to support those dealing with waste and recycling industry

We look forward to continuing to work with this group to promote best practice on behalf of our members.

Matt Kelcher
Head of Public Affairs and Research

Charity Retail Association