The UK is a global leader in the fight against slavery. As Home Secretary, it was Theresa May’s determination and commitment to tackle modern slavery that saw strong anti-slavery laws introduced in the form of the Modern Slavery Act. It introduced tougher sentences for offenders, better support for victims and an Anti-Slavery Commissioner to make sure reform happens.
The Centre for Social Justice’s 2013 report, It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to fight modern slavery, contributed to seeing the Modern Slavery Act came about as it provided a wakeup call to the public and politicians alike that slavery was a serious and growing problem in the UK.
These stronger anti-slavery laws have made a real, tangible difference to thousands of people’s lives. There have been more prosecutions of perpetrators including a group of men in Wales jailed this year on forced labour charges and a British factory owner jailed for conspiracy to traffic. Shortly after the new law was introduced, a police raid on nail salons across the country saw a number of victims rescued. While victims are being rescued there are still too many who need rescuing; the evil of modern slavery persists and we need to stamp it out.
The number of victims identified by the National Referral Mechanism has continued to rise each year, but prosecutions have not kept pace, with some notable exceptions. The Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s first annual report published last week, said police in England, Scotland and Wales are failing slavery victims because they are not recording what happens to these victims as crime which means too few cases are being investigated. A mere 28 per cent of cases in England and Wales resulted in crimes recorded by police. Consequently, victims are not getting the justice and support they need, the very thing the new Modern Slavery Act was seeking to address.
It is now believed that ‘forced labour’ exploitation is as prevalent as ‘sexual’ exploitation and the proportion of male victims is far higher than previously understood. The lack of specific provision for children is still non-existent, and it is suggested that 60 per cent of identified child victims are disappearing within 72 hours of being ‘rescued’. And the refugee crisis stemming from the Middle East has made hundreds of thousands of migrants vulnerable to traffickers across Europe.
The UK continues leading the way. As Prime Minister, Theresa May has maintained her focus on modern slavery. She has announced a reconstitution of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group as a Global Modern Slavery Task-Force, bolstered it with further personnel and re-allocated £33 million of DFID money to fight modern slavery. But using those funds and the wider resources of both the public and private sectors strategically will be crucial if the opportunity they represent is not to be squandered.
Recognising that people grappling with the root causes of poverty such as homelessness, debt and addiction are far more vulnerable to trafficking, the CSJ remains committed to stamping out slavery. We will shortly start a review to identify the most effective next steps and this will be followed by a report outlining concrete, strategic, practical recommendations.
Modern slavery is wide-reaching and deep-rooted; the response requires global cooperation between governments, civil societies and the private sector and a commitment from frontline services to provide justice, care and support that victims need and deserve. It is time for everyone to work together and end slavery once and for all.
This article originally appeared on Reaction.