Publication of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner's Annual Report 2021-2022
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has published her Annual Report 2021-2022. The Annual Report has been laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State (Home Secretary) in accordance with the Modern Slavery Act (2015).
The Annual Report outlines the Commissioner’s work to achieve her objectives as outlined in the Strategic Plan 2019-2021, within the four priority areas of: improving victim care and support; supporting law enforcement and prosecutions; focusing on prevention; and getting value from research and innovation.
To mark the launch of the report IASC will host a public event on Wednesday 27 April at 13.00 BST chaired by the Rt Rev Dr Alastair Redfern (Chair of the IASC Advisory Panel). Former Prime Minister The Rt Hon Theresa May MP and Professor Zoe Trodd (Director of the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham) will join Dame Sara in a discussion about the report and her tenure as Commissioner. The event will take place on Zoom and with limited in person attendance. Further details can be found here.
UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton, said in her foreword:
“This is my third and final annual report as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Over the last three years thousands of victims have been identified and supported by charities and through the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract. I have been impressed by the compassion and dedication of those who provide support and while systems are not perfect, UK arrangements compare very favourably with those in other countries. The great weakness in the system is the decision making process which is subject to significant delays. In 2021 the average number of days a victim waited for a conclusive grounds decision was 568 days and some victims have been waiting since 2016 for a decision. This is completely unacceptable and I while I have supported the Home Office in their work to reform the system it remains dysfunctional. I have concluded that it is time to move away from a centralised approach which is clearly failing victims. Trafficking decisions should be made locally by multi-disciplinary teams who have expertise and knowledge.
In the last twelve months I have been deeply concerned about the impact on victims of the New Plan for Immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill. I will leave immigration policy experts to comment on legislation which seeks to punish the most desperate refugees who are willing to take dangerous routes to reach the United Kingdom. My concern has been the proposals for modern slavery. While I welcome the clauses which place support for victims on a statutory footing, I remain most concerned about moves to withdraw support from some victims on account of their criminal past and the requirement for victims to make disclosures to a deadline or to risk undermining their credibility.
I have been delighted to see the rise in police investigations, prosecutions and convictions in the last year – albeit from a modest base point. Modern slavery and human trafficking is complex and complicated to investigate or to prosecute but it is essential that we send the strongest signal to traffickers that you will be pursued and your profits confiscated. In 2021 I therefore published two reports on financial investigation, and another on victim compensation in 2022, to encourage good practice. While police forces are under great pressure from competing priorities it is essential that they develop the capacity and capability to tackle this most heinous of crimes effectively. Good quality training, expert teams and clear governance are all key to effective enforcement.
While protecting victims and prosecuting offenders is vital, I have also focussed heavily on prevention. It is essential that we develop responses which address the economic, structural and cultural conditions which allow slavery to flourish across the globe. I remain convinced that a public health approach with its focus on prevention provides an excellent framework for anti-slavery strategy and have strongly recommended this to the Home Office and to local partnerships across the country. The development of a new government strategy for modern slavery provides an excellent opportunity for central government to work with agencies across the country to join up policy and delivery in order to make impact for survivors but also to address the underlying causes which create vulnerability and criminal opportunity.
Forced labour taints many supply chains and we must encourage business to look for it and to eradicate it. Our Modern Slavery Act legislation on supply chains encourages transparency on the basis that abuse is endemic. Businesses which find forced labour should not be vilified for doing so but required to address the abuse with their suppliers and provide compensation for workers. In the last year I have continued to focus my work on high risk business sectors in the UK and on the influential financial services sector. Over three years I have found the business community to be highly responsive to my work and keenly aware that modern slavery poses both a salient and material risk to their business.
Throughout my three years I have acted with independence, sought to rely on evidence and data and listened to very different perspectives. I have tried to avoid activist bias while scrutinising the role of government and to avoid the temptation to address issues through the lens of what is currently in the news rather than taking a longer and deeper look. I have collaborated with numerous committed professionals who have helped me to do this and I have listened to the wisdom and insights of survivors. In all that I have done I hope that I have fulfilled the ambitions of Parliament when it created the role of Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner in 2015.”
Notes to editors
- Part 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 created the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The Commissioner has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences and the identification of victims.
- The Commissioner is given an annual budget with which to appoint staff and carry out her duties. She is accountable through her strategic plan and annual reports, which the Secretary of State lays before Parliament, setting out the extent to which objectives and priorities are achieved. Her Strategic Plan 2019 – 2021 was launched in October 2019 and her Annual Report 2021 – 2022 was launched in April 2022.
- Dame Sara Thornton was appointed as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner by the Secretary of State following consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. She took up post at the beginning of May 2019 and her appointment is for three years.