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.
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.
Thousands in the UK, and millions globally are still victimised by modern slavery. In an age that celebrates freedom, equality and opportunity, it can be hard to fathom that such atrocities are occurring in our own towns and cities. Behind these faceless and incomprehensible figures are innocent men, women and children, often in vulnerable circumstances, being exploited and abused for profit and having their dreams and aspirations cruelly stripped away from them. People like Catherine, a typical British teenager, who recently shared her personal, harrowing account of enduring four years as a sex slave in the UK after running away from on an impulse and living through a nightmare as a consequence.
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.