Earlier this month we welcomed a new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, as the former Home Secretary, Theresa May, is appointed as the UK’s Prime Minister.
In my role as the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, I hope to see the new Home Secretary continue to prioritise the fight against modern slavery. There are more people enslaved today than at any other point in history. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 13,000 victims – enough to fill the seats of London’s entire Wembley Arena. These people are abused, exploited and kept in horrific conditions under the control of ruthless criminals. But the UK has set out on a course to lead in the fight against this, following last year’s introduction of the Modern Slavery Act. I hope to see this leadership continue.
There is much more to be done in the fight against modern slavery, a fight which must remain at the top of the political agenda. We need to prioritise those at the centre of this crime – the victims. To achieve this, maintaining high standards of victim care cannot be overlooked. This is a top priority of mine, and I look forward to working with the new Home Secretary to secure this.
- We need reform of the UK’s National Referral Mechanism
Victims of modern slavery, adults and children, who are identified in the UK receive support through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The government has accepted that the current NRM does not work as well as it should, and a reformed process is currently being piloted. We must be cautious that this system does not simply move survivors on without then looking at options for long-term support, which is often so seriously needed.
- We need better welfare support for European victims
Victims can access government funded accommodation for a limited time, but what comes next is neither systematic nor sufficient. Many European victims in particular disappear off the radar without access to further assistance. I therefore hope to see the government support my urgent call for welfare support for European nationals, before more victims find themselves struggling alone on our streets.
- We need child trafficking advocates urgently employed
Where children are concerned, who are of course especially vulnerable to traffickers and slave masters, I am pushing for child trafficking advocates to be employed for all potential child victims. Advocates will provide assistance tailored to the child’s culture, promote the child’s wellbeing and act in the child’s best interests – all urgent needs if we hope to see children recover from the trauma of trafficking. It is essential that these advocates are in place as soon as possible and this will remain a top priority of mine until this is so.
- We need to improve the law enforcement response
Though victims are identified and referred to initial support, perpetrators are not always pursued. I have looked into this issue and found that crimes are not appropriately recorded. Failure to record modern slavery allegations means that investigations are not being instigated, which results in fewer prosecutions and convictions. Until this changes, criminals who abuse children and exploit adults will continue to operate without impunity. Crime recording must be done correctly if the UK hopes to curb the crime of slavery and create a culture of accountability.
- We need enhanced international collaboration
Modern slavery is often a transnational crime and therefore demands a transnational response. Truly effective prevention must start in countries where victims come from, in order to stop vulnerable people from being exploited in the first place. Often this will mean working in collaboration to develop effective projects which look at rule of law, community engagement and sustainable development.
Cooperation with European partners is also essential. Following the Brexit vote the UK must ensure it can continue to utilise tools such as Joint Investigation Teams, operating investigations across borders, European Arrest Warrants and EUROPOL criminal databases.
- We need to drive implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 8.7
The resurgence of slavery is one of the great tragedies of the modern era, but so far it has not received the necessary level of attention on the global development agenda. This is why I lobbied to drive an amendment to ensure that ending modern slavery was an explicit target in the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals. With support from the Vatican and key members of the G77 group of countries, “ending modern slavery and human trafficking” was accepted as an amendment to Goal 8.7. This is already bringing concerted action, political will and increased funding to the fight against slavery around the world.
- We need to prevent trafficking and slavery in humanitarian crises
Complex humanitarian crises are currently taking place across the globe. I am continuing to encourage the government to ensure that protections against modern slavery are embedded into the UK’s response to these crises, which have displaced huge numbers of people, many of whom are extremely vulnerable to exploitation.
Specific focus must be given to Europe’s migration crisis. Emerging evidence indicates that the crisis is being exploited by human trafficking networks and opportunistic criminals who are targeting vulnerable adults and children. We need to stop the victimisation of the vulnerable before traffickers and slave masters have their way. Millions of people are on the move. Multitudes are without a home, a job or even a family, resulting in a pool of defenseless people vulnerable to trafficking and slavery. Though not all of these people will reach the UK, collaboration internationally is integral and it is in the interests of the UK government to play their part.
- We need the government to lead the way in slavery free supply chains
As supply chains have globalised and the demand for cheap products and labour continue to increase, the risk of slavery in supply chains has also risen; businesses therefore have a crucial role in national and international efforts. As part of my strategic plan, I have engaged directly with the private sector on the crime of slavery. Following the passing of the Modern Slavery Act last year, leading businesses have begun publishing statements outlining their efforts to tackle this issue. The government will rely on consumer pressure to see that this continues, but must also lead the way in addressing slavery in the supply chains of their own suppliers.
We must ensure that fighting modern slavery remains front and centre in modern society. Under this government, important strides have been taken to tackle this crime. I will continue to work with key partners and focus on support for victims, improved law enforcement and ethical business practices – both locally and internationally. It is my hope that the new Home Secretary also continues the vital work that has been started and sees this as just the beginning of the UK’s abolition journey.