Developing fresh perspectives about modern slavery

Having volunteered with a charity for young people affected by modern slavery, AMBA & BGA’s HR and Employer Relations Manager Aarti Bhasin is clear that tomorrow’s leaders must know how to recognise the warning signs of exploitation. Interview by Ellen Buchan

In 2019, AMBA & BGA’s HR and Employer Relations Manager,Aarti Bhasin, had the opportunity to provide training to staff running centres in Ethiopia for children affected by modern slavery and human trafficking. It was an experience that changed her outlook in both her professional and personal life.

‘This is a form of learning and experience that cannot be gained in a classroom or a workplace. The business case for doing a trip like this is simply that you have to see a different way of life in order to understand it and empathise. It also makes you very humble and self-reflective about your own life,’ Bhasin says.

By volunteering with UK-based non-profit, Hope for Justice, Bhasin was able to draw on her 19 years of HR experience to provide leadership development workshops with a team of other HR professionals. These were delivered to those providing support – including teachers, medical staff, psychologists, social workers and senior leaders – for young girls and boys forced to live or work in exploitative conditions between the ages of seven and 17.

Bhasin explains: ‘The girls’ centres operate in conjuction with the police through a referral system for girls who have been subjected to domestic violence, sexual exploitation or prostitution… The boys’ centres work on an outreach system, whereby youth workers take to the streets at night and speak to the boys living there and invite them  to come to a centre. It’s essential given their circumstances that they are given this choice’

During her time in Ethiopia, Bhasin was able to help run leadership development workshops that focused on goal setting, for individuals and for the team as a whole under its newly appointed Country Director. Together with her fellow volunteers, she also gave coaching sessions and advice on specific problems experienced by those working in the centres, including conflict resolution.

Recognising the signs of modern slavery

The experience imbued Bhasin with a passion for raising awareness of issues around modern slavery. She believes that too many organisations still view CSR as a ‘tick-box exercise’.

In the higher education sector, she says that Business Schools have a ‘duty to train people during their MBA in how to recognise the signs of modern slavery.’ She says that these future business leaders should be taught ‘to look carefully at supply chains. I think that everyone should have that awareness,’ she believes.

Warning signs Bhasin mentions for those in management positions include false promises being made to employees by their employers, the use of unknown (or changing) addresses and any overriding sense that employees are in fear of their employers and/or seem reluctant to speak openly.

For her, ideally, MBA students would not only learn how to spot potential signs of modern slavery in their future organisations’ supply chains, but also consider volunteering in centres such as the ones she visited.

‘An infield volunteering experience helps you see the world differently and realise the impact of poverty. If someone gets the chance, this kind of trip also improves soft skills, such as teamwork, and encourages attributes such as empathy, compassion and cultural awareness as well as showing you real-life resilience in action.’

Raising awareness

While Bhasin is fully aware of the criticisms sometimes levelled at short-term voluntary trips – or ‘voluntourism’, as their detractors refer to them – she points out that ‘the true motivation to go for most of us was raising awareness of the charity and the work that they are doing’. Each participant raised £2,000 GBP to take part, in addition to their trip costs.

‘If you don’t do these things you’re not going to raise awareness,’ she reasons. ‘If the motivation is right and your values match those of the organisation with whom you are volunteering, then I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with it.’ 

Looking forward, Bhasin admits that her volunteering experience has changed how she views her future career. For example, it has inspired her to seek out opportunities to deliver more workshops, closer to home. ‘The people running the centres were so engaged by the opportunity to learn new things, and I don’t think that is so different here in the UK,’ she says.

She is also keen to do more voluntary work for charitable organisations, such as Hope for Justice. ‘You learn so much about yourself and about circumstances that are out of your control. I think this gives you a big change of perspective.’

Aarti Bhasin is HR and Employer Relations Manager at AMBA & BGA.

She joined AMBA & BGA in 2015 as HR and Employer Relations Manager, overseeing AMBA & BGA’s HR function and leading on employer-related activities.

Her 19 years’ experience of operational HR includes roles at the Institute of Directors, the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry and the NHS. This expertise is key to building effective working relationships with MBA recruiters in multinationals and SME companies worldwide and careers services professionals within AMBA & BGA’s networks of Business Schools.

She holds a master’s degree in HR management from London Metropolitan University.

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