We're recruiting: Modern Slavery researcher

The Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability is recruiting a researcher for a part-time, fixed-term consultancy project, which might suit a current postgraduate student (e.g. PhD) or graduate.


Various types of slavery still occur in the world today – from some instances of people claiming ownership of other people, to bonded and forced labour. Trafficking of people is often involved. High profile media reports have exposed cases of slavery in prawn fishing in Thailand, in electronics manufacturing in Malaysia, and on farms in the UK, among others – which could all potentially have links to some university supply chains. There are also risks in hospitality industries and domestic work, which may be in places where University money is spent.

The UK has been the first to pass a Modern Day Slavery Act into law. The legislation came into force in October 2015, and requires commercial organisations operating in the UK with an annual global turnover of £36m or more to publish an annual slavery and trafficking statement, detailing what they are doing to combat risks in their own operations and in their supply chains. This is estimated to cover about 12,000 companies. Legal advice has been sought by the higher education sector, and it has been concluded that universities also need to comply with this requirement to publish a statement. The University of Edinburgh is committed to social responsibility and already works to reduce forced labour in supply chains, but this renewed focus on modern slavery provides an opportunity and focus to find ways to go further than legislation requires.

Stakeholders from across the University came together in early May 2016 to discuss risks of modern slavery linked to university operations from different angles:

  • On campus
  • In our supply chains (globally and locally)
  • In waste disposal/recycling
  • In our international offices
  • In overseas partnerships

An action plan is now being developed, and work is being done to start to draft our anti-slavery and trafficking statement. To help us develop a strong action plan, we are commissioning this piece of research to provide a more in-depth study of structures and practices that enable modern slavery, how these may be linked to our own operations, and what best practice elsewhere we might learn from. This piece of research will also help inform other universities of modern slavery risks, and so encourage more collaborative actions across the sector.

Research questions

  • How do modern, globalised business models facilitate or encourage modern slavery?
  • What models of organised crime and fraud operate in the world today, that use trafficking and modern slavery to further their aims, and what types of work and countries are particularly at risk?
  • How may these models be linked to university operations? (on campus, admissions, global and local supply chains, waste disposal/recycling, international offices construction and staffing, overseas partnerships).
  • What examples of best practice regarding combating modern slavery could universities learn from? (examples from business, supply chain management, NGOs, etc.)We are particularly interested in how decisions made within university operations could impact (positively or negatively) on modern slavery but also any proactive programmes or investments from higher education sector .
  • How does other guidance such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights support organisational decision making in this area?
  • What recommendations could be made based on the above to universities, regarding reducing the risks of modern slavery links in any aspects of their operations?


While in-depth reading of academic literature and web resources will be required, the final output will be a briefing suitable for a practitioner audience and will summarise the key points arising from the research questions above. The researcher may wish to conduct some interviews with, for example, academics or NGO or government representatives, or the project may be purely desk-based.


  • Estimated start date – 4th July
  • Within 2 weeks of commencement:
    • A clear plan of work including timeline
    • For any primary research to be carried out – a data management plan, notes/transcripts, ethics/consent forms.
  • By 12th August:
    • A draft of the full report
  • By 26th August:
    • A 10-15-page briefing report, formatted to SRS style, to be published on our website and shared with colleagues as well as the wider higher education sector
    • A list of contacts and references for further information/collaboration.


  • Budget - £2000 for estimated 15 days’ work in July and August
  • Payment: in two instalments of £1000
  • May suit a PhD student with part-time availability
  • Consultancy project format – carried out remotely, but desk space may be available in SRS office depending on days
  • Regular meetings to be held with Liz Cooper, SRS Research and Policy Manager, to discuss progress

Requirements for applicants

  • Research and report writing experience.
  • Interest in and preferably knowledge of the topic.
  • Availability to carry out 15 full days (7 hours a day) of work during the specified period, and availability to attend regular meetings in Edinburgh to discuss progress.


To apply: please send a CV and covering letter outlining your relevant experience, availability and interest to, ccing in, by 9am on 24th June.  Shortlisted applicants will be contacted by email to arrange a short informal interview during the week commencing 27th June, with the project to start no later than 4th July.

Liz Cooper

Research & Policy Manager

Contact details


  • Before completing an MSc in Business & Community, Liz worked on fair trade & livelihoods projects in India and Senegal for a number of years. She joined the University in 2012 to work on supply chain social responsibility, and currently leads the department’s Fairness in Trade and Sustainable Procurement Programme, including research, policy development, and collaboration with the Procurement Office on implementation. She also contributes to work on responsible investment, and leads work on developing a Living Lab approach – linking academic research to practice in the University on SRS issues.