2020 has been quite a year!

Sunrise in Muswell Hill, London Dec 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the year for the whole world in 2020. For those of us that have been fighting for social justice, it has exposed the things that were never quite as visible as they ought to have been. We saw in plain sight the widening gulf of inequality between the haves and have-nots, the powerful and the vulnerable, and the critical importance of physical, mental and emotional health as a basic human need.

The racism, sexism, bigotry, exploitation and abuse in our society showed up every day in the form of hunger, joblessness, illness, desperation and depression. The lack of value or regard for ‘the other’ was exposed most clearly when vital workers on the front line that are paid the least got sick first and had least access to services or safety nets – care workers, cleaners, waste-pickers, domestic workers, agricultural workers, factory workers, drivers, street vendors and more. When employers closed their doors, they defrauded workers of wages owed to them; companies reneged on their contracts with their suppliers, leaving them and their workers high and dry. The number of children in the worst forms of child labour began to rise for the first time in 20 years. The business models based on extracting maximum profit for the lowest price without any regard for basic human rights and the governments that turn a blind eye to unlawful practices were also exposed on a scale we have not seen before. And despite all that, there were protests, exposes and challenges, and attacks on trade unionists and civil society activists continued.

Our world allows us to feel fully part of global events and at the same time have a different reality in our day to day lives. Despite the devastation and crisis around the world, I was privileged to have had a good year. I am lucky enough to have a loving family, incredible friends, a home, enough money and good health. When lockdown happened, for the first few months it was Spring, and I loved the quiet and peace around me in the streets and green spaces around where I live. I spent lots of time walking, listening to birds, watching green shoots and blossoms appear as if seeing and hearing them for the first time.

I set up a Zoom account and started teaching yoga and Nia dance online as my contribution to help people through the pandemic. I was teaching two classes a week at Hestia, an amazing charity that supports women who have been trafficked or subject to domestic violence in London. The classes were open to staff, volunteers and service users, and although I wished they’d been in person, it worked well. I ran classes for friends and family from around the world, and started a class for my Women’s Walking Football buddies as we could not meet in person (I know, strange as it is, I started playing at the Arsenal Hub). I signed up for courses and webinars, read and watched a lot of Netflix.

I left my job as Head of Modern Slavery Strategy at The Ethical Trading Initiative at the beginning of the year and set myself up as a consultant for the first time. I was scared and excited in equal measure: I was ready for a change and knew I didn’t want to plunge into a new organisation without having time to think about what I wanted to be doing next professionally speaking. I was lucky also that work came to me without me having to ‘sell myself’, which I was dreading.

What follows are some highlights of the year. I am so grateful to the people I worked with, and to the organisations that included me in their projects.

  • Reviewed and revised a Business Case Report on Ethical Recruitment of Migrant Workers for the @International Labour Organisation‘s Vietnam office commissioned by @Anna Olsen.
  • Wrote a Brief on the Impact of Covid-19 on Child Labour for the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch. Commissioned by @Ben Smith and @Katherine Torres. Collaborated with @Belinda Moore to produce great infographics. The brief was used for a major global forum on Covid-19 Impacts on the World of Work.
  • Designed and delivered a training curriculum on Preventing and Mitigating Human Trafficking, Forced Labour and Modern Slavery for the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s own organisation and supply chains. The training was designed to help them improve their own procurement and contract management systems through better due diligence. Commissioned by @Julia Rutz, collaborated with @ Prof. Olga Martin-Ortega and @Ruth Pojman.
  • Developed a Remedy and Grievance Policy for @The Body Shop and @Natura &Co – commissioned by @Pins Brown and @Jo Webb. It included a review of best practice and a set of principles that will support their Human Rights Policy.
  • Delivered a Strategy for the ILO’s Child Labour Platform – a business platform tackling the root causes of child labour in some of the most challenging sectors and places in the world. I interviewed all the large company members, unions and NGOs involved in the Platform, as well as the UN Global Compact – to produce a Strategy that reflected their interests, needs and current Covid-19 context. I was delighted to work with @Beatrice Pyle – who did an internship with me providing research and great graphics.
  • Reviewed Guidance for businesses on preventing modern slavery of migrant workers through the whole migration cycle for @IOM Regional Asia Office. Commissioned by @Max Pottler
  • Acted as Decent Work Specialist for @Catalystas, a feminist consultancy commissioned to deliver a literature review, training and guidance for small, medium and micro youth enterprises in Bangladesh and India. Work was commissioned by @Youth Business International, which is supported by @IKEA Foundation. The partners, @B’YEA and @BYST support thousands of young people to set up businesses and create jobs in their communities.
  • Provided ad-hoc consultancy support to @SDDirect @Isabelle Cardinal and @ITAD on gender, modern slavery, ethical trade and human rights due diligence. @David Walker @Abdulkareem Lawal
  • Continued to mentor for the @Crossing Thresholds programme to support women in the UK Civil Service to advance their careers and enhance their professional development.
  • My Trustee role on the Board of the @Africa Educational Trust came to an end in the Autumn as AET merged with @StreetChild. We steered the merger over the past few years and look forward to seeing its extraordinary work continue. It has, over many decades – provided educational opportunities for excluded children and adults in the most challenging, remote, conflict-affected parts of Africa. Empowerment is such an overused and abused term, but AET stood for building and supporting local people as experts and adapting to local needs and contexts with incredible results. I was privileged to work with the Board, including @Sally Healy @Sarah Hughes and Director @Julie Polzerova
  • Started a new role as a Tutor on the @Cambridge CISL programme – delighted and honoured to be part of an incredible team of thought leaders and passionate champions of business sustainability and leadership. It’s been a massive learning curve, and challenging to be entirely online, but loved working with students and benefiting from the wisdom of staff, including @Emma Fromberg @Ian Ellison
  • Started a new role on the Advisory Board of the Corretta & Martin Luther @King Institute for Peace. Joined a webinar to launch it. Thank you @Tina Davis for inviting me to join.
  • Was honoured to work with @Safia Minney in launching her new @REAL Sustainability partnership. Joined a webinar and several workshops. She has so much wisdom and real expertise in running a truly ethical and sustainable business, PeopleTree.
  • I provided a voluntary Secretariat role for the International Working Group on Ethical Public Procurement – an incredible network of public procurement professionals working to improve ethical standards in their own public bodies. The group meets quarterly to share best practice, collaborate and engage in advocacy efforts.
  • It was an honour to continue my engagement with @Rethinking Value Chains – a collective of civil society and trade union activists and researchers who are committed to re-imagining and realising a different vision for global value chains – based on collaboration for more equitable distribution of value based on respect for human rights. I joined a four-day retreat in the beautiful conference centre La Bergerie and several online sessions to develop the Strategy for the coming years.
  • Launched the Labour Standards in Pakistan’s Surgical Instruments Sector report with @PILER and @ETI – a collaborative project I steered for several years while at the @ETI. Very proud of the work but a long way to go before the Recommendations are owned and implemented.
  • Completed the project I initiated at the ETI to develop Access to Remedy Principles for vulnerable migrant workers. Ran a consultation workshop for government, businesses, unions and NGOs in Istanbul, Turkey before lockdown. The programme is funded by the UK government Modern Slavery Innovation Fund.
  • I started my new job in mid-September at the @Open Society Foundations. It’s a one-year parental leave cover post for @Elizabeth Frantz – managing the Fair Work programme for Asia, Gulf/Middle East and Europe – based in the international migration division. The role involves supporting trade unions, grassroots and global migrant worker and civil society organisations to tackle exploitation and abuse of vulnerable and precarious workers. It’s such a pleasure to be working in an organisation that is willing to challenge abuse of power and promote open democracy and open societies as a ‘political philanthropy’. I’m learning a lot and loving working with my colleagues and partners, including @Laine Romero-Alston, @Philippa Parmar, and supporting many organisations with their important work.

Finally, my family: I remain so proud of the love of my life and my partner Eric Lee @Labourstart for his tireless and unflinching efforts to support working people and trade union struggles around the world. I am blown away by the extraordinary work of this volunteer army to post news stories in many languages in every part of the world, and providing global solidarity and successes for struggles of unionists under attack 365 days a year. If you haven’t signed up to the mailing list and supported the campaigns, please do so now! I became a volunteer correspondent this year. One of the highlights of my year was interviewing the General Secretary of the @TUC, Frances O’Grady for a 12 hour Virtual May Day Celebration.

My daughter Kita is a constant source of pride and joy – keeping us all sane with her delicious sense of humour. She’s working, about to move out, start her Masters in Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy. And of course, I am blessed to have close relationships with my Mum, three sisters and a huge network of close friends without whom I cannot imagine my life.