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Today on Anti-Slavery Day, I wanted to reflect on our latest International Human Rights conference, held yesterday in Istanbul. Refugees were a key topic of conversation, which is no surprise as Turkey hosts five million of the world’s 65 million refugees and there are lots of examples of good practice where businesses have supported refugees. As one participant brilliantly summed up: "refugees are guests in our country, 80% are here to stay, let’s integrate them and make them welcome."

Turkey is a key country for M&S, we have 48 stores and it’s a significant sourcing country for our clothing and home business and key for certain Food raw materials like Hazelnuts, where 75% of the world’s supply comes from Turkey!   

The conference aimed to provide a space to discuss challenging issues and provide practical tools for suppliers and partners on addressing the complexities of modern slavery and human rights. We also shared our experiences and insights and launched a Turkish version of modern slavery toolkit.

Given increasing levels of migration and the scale of many systemic human rights issues, including forced labour, we recognise this is a key area where we need to increase our collaboration and so were pleased many of our partners could be in the room and speaking at this event.

The conference was facilitated by Tolga Hans, Senior Regional Compliance Manager at M&S Turkey who emphasised that respect for human rights is enshrined in Turkish law and it is in the interests of business to respect human rights and tackle forced labour.

We heard from multinational corporations, such as Nestle and Coca-Cola Icecek  (who we collaborate with on responsible recruitment through the Leadership group on Responsible Recruitment) on the importance of collaboration and supply chain mapping. We were also proud to host United Work, which dispelled some of the myths around employing Syrian Refugees and detailed the support available for business.  Alfred Le Prevost from British Embassy Ankara highlighted to the audience the expectations of the British Government and reminded us of the ever-increasing number of victims of modern slavery in the UK – now at over 13,000.

Didem Ileri, Head of Region EMEA and Pakistan, said: “We are delighted to welcome our Clothing, Home and Food suppliers, franchise partners, international brands and wider organisations we are collaborating with, to our first Turkish Human Rights conference. Many of the issues raised today are bigger than one organisation to solve. We hope today will act as a stimulus for the organisations attending to work more collaboratively together in the future.”

So, on Anti-Slavery Day, it’s a good moment to remember the 40.3m estimated to be suffering in slavery. M&S hold a steadfast commitment to champion the eradication of modern slavery and by bringing together our suppliers in Turkey we were able to raise awareness and understanding of good practice. Our belief is that greater collaboration and education across sectors can and must bolster the fight against this heinous crime.