Yesterday was the United Nations World Day against Trafficking in Persons which aims to raise the awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and the promotion and protection of their rights. Having completed three months as Commissioner it is very clear to me that there is so much to do to raise awareness of the extent of modern slavery and trafficking in this country. It is not something that happens many thousands of miles away but something that is happening in our communities.
The recent convictions of eight people for exploiting at least 92 Polish workers in a range of West Midlands businesses gained widespread coverage and has highlighted the way in which organised crime groups exploit the vulnerable. These victims were working for companies that supply goods to many very familiar household names. I have written to the chief executives of the companies concerned seeking reassurance that they will be reviewing their supply chains in the light of this case.
The number of police investigations continues to increase, and I spent a very useful day with the national team which helps to co-ordinate operations in forces. Many investigations cross force boundaries and require officers to work together but also with other organisations such as the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, local authorities and many charities and NGOs. This national team provides an invaluable service sharing good practice, training colleagues and writing essential guidance.
The US Ambassador at Large for Trafficking in Persons, John Richmond, visited the UK this month. We shared our experiences, hopes and concerns in protecting victims, prosecuting traffickers and preventing slavery. Accompanied by HRH Princess Eugenie we were guests of Westminster Abbey on a tour of the memorials to the great abolitionists including William Wilberforce. It was good to reflect on their courageous work many years ago. Modern slavery is an international challenge and it is important that we work with allies who share our vision to eradicate slavery.
If we are ever to succeed in this mission we need to understand what works. Evaluation, experiments and innovation, and research are all important and I was delighted that the Government announced the funding for a Policy and Evidence Centre for Modern Slavery and Human Rights. I am determined to encourage the relationships between research, policy and practice. I visited the University of Liverpool a few weeks ago to hear about work on supply chains, building sustainable international projects and supporting victims in their law centre.
Lastly, I visited Wales for the first time in my new role and attended the Wales Leadership group. There was excellent engagement from a wide range of partners and I was particularly interested to hear about how they support victims using multi agency panels. The number of victims in the NRM continues to rise and it’s important that we continue to develop better ways to protect victims and survivors.