By Tom Esslemont
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Only 100 British companies have paid to sign up to a new voluntary slavery database, designed to fund an anti-trafficking helpline, organizers said on Monday.
The number is a tiny fraction of around 12,000 UK businesses targeted to join the Transparency in the Supply Chain (TISC) data bank, that allows firms to confidentially admit when they find their suppliers using enslaved workers, its directors said.
Funds raised by TISC are destined to cover operational costs of a victims' support helpline run by the anti-trafficking charity Unseen, but signing up is optional.
Britain's 2015 Modern Slavery Act only requires businesses with a turnover of 36 million pounds ($47.43 million) to disclose in annual reports what action they have taken to ensure their supply chains are free of slave labor.
"We urge companies to join the database. For a nominal amount of money it meets requirements for firms wanting to do more than just comply with the law," TISC co-director Jaya Chakrabarti told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Britain is regarded as a leader in global efforts to combat modern day slavery, with Prime Minister Theresa May setting out a new drive on Sunday to tackle what she called a "barbaric evil".
In an article in Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper, May pledged more funding and a new cross-government taskforce to help victims found in "nail bars and car washes to sheds and rundown caravans".
In her previous role as interior minister, May pioneered Britain's 2015 Modern Slavery Act that requires businesses to disclose what action they have taken to ensure their supply chains are free of slave labor.
Nearly 46 million people are enslaved globally, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, which estimated there were 11,700 victims living in Britain.
"This is the great human rights issue of our time, and as prime minister I am determined that we will make it a national and international mission to rid our world of this barbaric evil," May said.
Chakrabarti said voluntarily submitting statements to the TISC database offered firms more transparency, "reducing the overall risk of having slavery in their supply chains."
But the slow take-up reflected a lack of awareness among businesses about what they need to do to comply with the law, anti-trafficking campaigners said.
In March this year the charity Unseen won 1 million pounds ($1.32 million) of start-up funding for trafficking-busting helpline from Google.org, the grant-giving arm of the global internet giant.
But Unseen said it was "confident" a further 1.5 million pounds needed to cover costs in the following three years would be provided through membership of the slavery data bank.
"We view the income from TISC as a long term funding stream which will contribute to the costs of the helpline," Andrew Wallis, chief executive of Unseen, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, without commenting on the slow subscription rate to TISC.
While companies must now publish their statements on anti-slavery measures every financial year they can decide themselves if they want to enter their data into a central repository, causing confusion among companies and campaigners.
"Businesses have ... said they find it very hard to know what they should be doing," said Kate Roberts, head of the Human Trafficking Foundation, a UK charity.
"They have asked for guidance from government as to where they should be depositing their statements," Roberts said.
($1 = 0.7590 pounds)
(Reporting By Tom Esslemont, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)