No part of the UK is immune from the brutal abuse of modern slavery. From cities to suburbs, men, women and children are exploited in residential homes converted into brothels, factories with hazardous working conditions, farms securely surveilled and seemingly innocent nail bars.
Last year we learnt of Vietnamese minors paying thousands of dollars to get to the UK, only to be exploited in cannabis farms on arrival; the media increasingly reported on young children used to move drugs across county lines in the UK; we heard of women trafficked from Nigeria and brought to the UK to be sexually exploited in brothels across the country; we saw the rescue of vulnerable men enslaved for decades laying driveways of family homes; and we witnessed women kept in exclusive residences as ‘domestic servants’ without pay, threatened with violence and stripped of their freedom.
Cases are complex and inconsistent, which is undoubtedly challenging, but all represent the unacceptable abuse of fellow mankind.
2017 saw the challenge of shifting mind-sets. From understanding the seriousness of modern slavery crime to valuing the importance of slavery free supply chains, there is still a way to go before we see those with influence consistently responding to this crime appropriately. Stepping into 2018, it is my hope that this will indeed become the case, with all actors addressing slavery as a duty and the norm, rather than a burden and the exception.
While challenges remain there was great progress throughout 2017 and highlights include:
1. a combined global estimate of modern slavery by the Walkfree Foundation and the International Labour Organization, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration;
2. an increase in the number of victims identified and referred for support;
3. the first conviction of a Vietnamese trafficking gang exploiting in UK nail bars;
4. a 160% increase in police reporting of modern slavery, leading to an increase in investigations launched;
5. modern slavery made a national priority by The National Crime Agency;
6. a significant increase in funding from the UK Government;
7. training for 1,500 members of the judiciary in England and Wales;
8. a 77% increase in convictions, with many uniquely challenging cases;
9. influencing international responses to the crime, with Australia drafting legislation, Lithuania boosting the law enforcement response and Romania increasingly engaging with the UK across borders;
10. and a commitment from the UK Government to radically reform the UK’s system of support for victims.
With a rising number of modern slavery victims being identified year on year in the UK, and criminal convictions still relatively low, our fight against the crime is still in its early stages – however we are making vast progress in pursuing perpetrators and providing crucial care to survivors.
We will build on the success of 2017 as we step into a new year, working hard to eradicate modern slavery from the UK and beyond. I am confident that together, with our valued statutory and non-government partners, we will drive a response to modern slavery that is professional, powerful and effective.