Ride for freedom

How one man broke a Guinness World Record to raise awareness of the scourge of modern slavery.

How one man broke a Guinness World Record to raise awareness of the scourge of modern slavery.

Gordon Miller, CEO of Sustain Worldwide, is a man on a mission. For the past five years he’s been raising awareness of the scourge of modern slavery that today impacts 40 million men, women and children worldwide, with tens of thousands of those trapped in the UK.

In 2016, a year after the Modern Slavery Act came into force, Gordon organized the Modern Slavery in Construction Symposium, which brought together sector leaders to discuss how they should best tackle the problem. He was also closely involved in development of the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority’s Construction Protocol

And now Gordon is the Guinness World Record holder for the ‘largest GPS drawing by bicycle (individual)’ by cycling 620.5 miles (998.7kilometres) by spelling ‘end modern slavery’, breaking the previous record by 296.14 miles.

EcobuildingNow caught up with Gordon to ask him about his Guinness World Record challenge and why modern slavery is still a problem, five years after the Act.

1. We see modern slavery statements on company websites but is it just a box ticking?

Yes, many see it as a compliance issue. However, slowly but surely more and more are coming to both understand their human rights responsibilities and to appreciate the advantages that engaging on the issue provides for their own business and their supply chain.

2. How do you see things changing?

The recent recommendations from the Modern Slavery Act (2015) consultation are a positive step forward. In particular, bringing the public sector in scope, a single annual reporting date, a central registry, mandated reporting areas and greater enforcement are welcome. Equally, pressure from the public and investors is compelling companies to act. Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights businesses also have minimum responsibilities to meet to respect human rights, acting with due diligence to avoid infringing the rights of others. This means they must address any negative human rights impacts related to their business and abide by international standards.

3. What else can companies do?

Engage on the issues – undertake due diligence to map their supply chains, manage and report their impacts; seek to continuously improve their performance. Many companies could do more and quicker, but it’s a process and a journey that takes commitment, perseverance and is not a quick win by any means.

4. What more can international governments do?

Enforce their own legislation. There’s not been one prosecution in the U.K. of companies’ failing to meet their legal requirements to file an annual modern slavery statement, despite around 40% of those in scope never having reported. Internationally, only a handful of governments have specific anti-modern slavery legislation. So there’s huge scope for more to be done to eradicate modern slavery and ‘free’ the +40 million enslaved globally.

5. So, why cycling?

The appalling and shaming statistics, allied with reading the horrendous testimonies of dozens of survivors, compelled me to want to do something, but I wasn’t sure how to. I’m a keen cyclist and one cold day in early December 2018, while pedalling along, I had my Eureka moment: combine my passion for cycling with my background in marketing and communications to raise awareness. So in over two weeks in October 2019 I completed my #RideForFreedom2019 challenge, cycling 500 miles and finishing at the Houses of Parliament on Anti-Slavery Day (18 October) where Baroness Young of Hornsey OBE met me. I also managed to raise over £2,000 for the two charities.

6. What inspired you to try for a Guinness Book of Records Challenge?

A lot of people were asking how I was going to top #RideForFreedom2019 and so I hit upon the idea for a Guinness World Record attempt. Everyone knows about it, so if I myself an ambitious challenge that included an anti-modern slavery message, it would not only raise awareness, but might inspire others to set their own challenge and create a snowball effect.  You can see Gordon’s listing for ‘Largest GPS drawing by bicycle (individual)’ here

7. What did Guinness Book of Records Challenge involve?

The challenge was to create the largest GPS drawing by bicycle by spelling ‘end modern slavery’. My 13-day ride – #RideForFreedom2020 – traversed England on pre-planned GPS routes. Starting on 16 September, I spelt ‘end’ between Manchester and Doncaster. ‘Modern’ took me from Ludlow to Peterborough via Leicestershire. ‘Slavery’ began in Bristol and ended on 2 October in central London. Visit RideforFreedom here.

8. What was the toughest section?

My favourite rides were three of the hardest, involving lots of cycling up hills that provided spectacular views over England’s invariably beautiful countryside. One was from Glossop to Sheffield via Woodhead Reservoir to Holme Moss. That’s a climb of 4.5km and a 287 metre-gain to a height of 524 metres above sea level, which was the highest point of the ride. It was a lovely sunny day and as demanding as any I’ve had on a bike but the stunning scenery and sense of achievement made it memorable.

9. Where should organisations go to find the advice and guidance they may need?

Start with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the ILO and the OECD. Consultancies, such as Ardea International, can help companies to develop due diligence programmes that are the starting point to be able to understand, measure, monitor and report one’s business and human rights impacts.

Gordon is already planning next year’s cycling modern slavery awareness raiser, #RideForFreedom2021. The aims are to set and execute more collaborative impact orientated, cycling-goal setting activities in the UK and globally. That includes setting himself a motivational (and he hopes inspirational) international cycling challenge. To find out more, contact  

Global Responsible Investing Virtual Summit

Gordon producing the online Global Responsible Investing Virtual Summit, on Thursday 19 November 2020, with includes free ESG-focused webinars on Net-zero Carbon Performance Measurement and Social Risk and Resilience.

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