Gardening in this country is something of a sport. I understand that there are something like 27 million active gardeners in the UK. That’s about the same number as the number of slaves (we are told) globally. A correlation between gardening and slavery. Can that be right?
For some months now I have been working with a team of people involved in the design of a modern slavery garden for the Chelsea flower show. We have met regularly to discuss the garden, the fringe event that will take place before it and to understand more about this issue of modern day slavery. Everyone that is involved in the team has a desire to help make our communities slave free.
I am not an avid gardner. But I love gardens for the beauty of the plants and flowers. The smell of blossoms in spring and freshly cut grass resonate deeply as they remind me of my childhood growing up in South Africa where the smell and taste of the earth forms part of the fabric of your life, whether rich or poor. And so the closest I come to spades really is when I have to call a spade a spade or in some cases a shovel when dealing with tricky issues around human rights and business. Particularly in the arena of modern slavery. Some of you will have heard that the UK has implemented the Modern Slavery Act . This act requires businesses with a global turnover of £36 million and greater to disclose in a slavery statement how they are tackling the issue of slavery and human trafficking in their organisations and supply chains.1
As part of the journey of developing the garden it was agreed that we needed to dig a little deeper into the supply chains of the products that we have had to buy – the doors, the stones, the trees, the plants, the iron railings, the paint.
Julliet and I sat down and started working out what kind of questions we should be asking suppliers. I drafted a basic checklist and off we went on our journey uncovering what we have since discovered is a bed of thorns. The supply of products globally is tainted by forced labour, bonded labour and child labour issues. Over 68% of people in slavery are in forced labour. This does not mean that there are not some great stories of how companies are trying to help change things and we are going to share some of these positive stories in a series of blogs and case studies over the next few months.
Whilst digging for answers on how business is tackling human trafficking or modern day slavery in their supply chains we were usually met with one of three responses: an appreciation of the issue and a statement that they are trying to tackle the problem; caginess, a fudge of what they are doing or complete lack of understanding of the issues.
These responses are not unlike the responses I have had in my own work on these issues. We have been especially appalled at the lack of transparency in the sourcing of steel that makes up the iron railings. In fact we will be telling the visitors at Chelsea that the railings are probably made by slaves. But we have been equally encouraged by the fact that there are companies that are aware of the issues, like London Stone or that want to come on the journey with us, like our paint suppliers, Edward Bulmer.
Like a garden that needs the right soil for the seeds to grow and the plants to be nurtured, we believe that getting business to tackle the issue of modern day slavery is going to take a bit more digging, a few more pricks from the thorns, a mountain of commitment but perhaps in some years to come, like the modern slavery rose there will be sweet scent signifying change. We just need some spades to get digging…
Come and join us at Freedom street or at the Chelsea flower show. Or join our #askthequestion campaign.