On the evening of Wednesday 12th October, the UK’s first ever Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner hosted an event at Westminster Abbey to mark the UK’s commitment to combat modern slavery. The short service was the first of its kind, gathering leaders from a broad range of sectors to galvanise action both nationally and globally.
Over 350 representatives from the anti-slavery sector, politics, academia, private sector, policing and international organisations joined the Commissioner, and other high level attendees, to recommit to the work of William Wilberforce who led the movement to abolish the slave trade. This event marked the beginning of the UK’s Anti-Slavery Week 2016, with Anti-Slavery Day taking place on Tuesday 18th October.
In addition to an address from the Commissioner, a few words were shared by Prime Minister Theresa May, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster.
During the service, HRH Princess Eugenie of York laid a wreath at the grave of William Wilberforce, together with two survivors of modern slavery. One of the survivors who joined the Princess was exploited in the UK as a domestic slave, but has moved on to become a voice for the voiceless, campaigning for victims of modern slavery. The other survivor was trafficked to the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation as a young boy, but is now a professional footballer and ambassador for anti-slavery charity, Sport for Freedom.
Speaking on the event, the Commissioner stated, “This is an opportunity to inspire leaders and incite action. Modern slavery is a gross injustice. It impacts millions around the world, thousands in the UK, brutally robbing them of their life and liberty”.
“For too long, individuals have worked in silo; this service provides an exceptional opportunity to bring everyone together to collaborate and coordinate a response that is commensurate to the threat of modern slavery, and ultimately recommit to the legendary work of those who have gone before”.
At the service, the Prime Minister passionately spoke of how she wants Britain “leading the world” in the fight against modern slavery. She gave a clear message to both the victims and criminals: “To the victims of modern slavery: we will not ignore your plight. We will not turn away. We will not shut our eyes and pretend your suffering does not exist. We will work tirelessly, relentlessly pursuing the perpetrators of these appalling crimes so that victims of slavery can go free. And my message to these criminals is simply this: we are coming after you”.
The service followed the publication of the Commissioner’s annual report, which was laid before Parliament, Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly on the morning of Wednesday 12th October. The report focuses on progress made in the last year, with specific examples of significant achievements.