[Report] IT HAPPENS HERE: Equipping the United Kingdom to fight modern slavery

A policy report by the Slavery Working Group

Human trafficking is the recruitment and movement of people by means such as violent force, fraud, coercion or deception, or abuse of their vulnerability with the aim of exploiting them. It is modern slavery. Despite Wilberforce’s campaign in the UK a little over 200 years ago, we face the reality that there are still slaves in our sophisticated society today.The abolitionist, Ralph Waldo Emerson said: ‘If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own’.2 The chains may no longer be visible, but psychological ones still hold many in slavery in the UK today.

Our report explains how modern slavery in the UK manifests itself and the various forms it takes.Taking evidence from over 180 individuals and organisations across all sectors involved in anti-slavery efforts, this review is about what needs to be done if we are collectively going to eradicate modern slavery.There are no simple solutions, but we present a series of inter- related measures that, if collectively and consistently applied, will help stop modern slavery.

Of fundamental importance is the understanding that modern slavery is not primarily an issue of immigration. Yet the lead in government is the Immigration Minister and the UK Border Agency has significant input on decisions over whether or not a person has been trafficked.This sends completely the wrong message.We have heard that law enforcement is often confused as to how to proceed, perceiving incorrectly the issue as one of immigration. Increasingly we are seeing that UK nationals are also forced into modern slavery, without crossing any international border.Victims of modern slavery have had a crime committed against them and our response must be the same as it would be towards any other victim of crime, regardless of their country of origin.

Modern slavery has been allowed to grow and develop in the UK because of demand. Together we have allowed human beings to be bought and sold as mere commodities for profit, gain or gratification. Systemic issues around the demand for modern slavery must be addressed and these will take a generation to deal with, but in the interim we must begin the hard work of making the UK as hostile a place as possible for these criminals to operate in, turning this crime from one of ‘low risk, high return’ to ‘high risk, low return’.

This review is not about quantifying the scale of modern slavery in the UK; an exact number will never be possible given the hidden nature of the crime. The view of the Working Group is that the UK must be more proactive in looking under the stone. We therefore examine existing practices and measures currently in place to identify victims, assessing their effectiveness and making recommendations that will help us to free those who are enslaved and prevent people from becoming victims in the first place. We note that during the course of this review much has changed and been developed by government in the areas of legislation and survivor care, but there is still much more to be done.

We recommend the passing of a single Modern Slavery Act.This will enable law enforcement agencies to see the law more clearly, and not have to reference immigration law for the appropriate offence if they wish to prosecute for trafficking for non-sexual exploitation.The Modern Slavery Act should also include a mandatory duty to investigate all possible cases of potential modern slavery, and a statement of non-prosecution of victims who had no choice but to commit a criminal offence whilst they were enslaved.The symbolic statement of such an Act would reinforce the UK Government’s intention to be at the forefront of the fight against modern slavery, reflecting the serious criminality of trafficking for any form of exploitation and demonstrating that modern slavery will not be tolerated in contemporary British society.

The review highlights the very clear need for strategic leadership, accountability and coordination to combat trafficking and we strongly challenge the Government to change its stance on this matter.We call for the role of an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to be created under the Modern Slavery Act in order to bring much needed non-partisan leadership and consistency to this issue.Whilst we acknowledge some progress by the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking, we fail to see how this group can give the necessary lead and independence on these matters. It is also vital that through the Commissioner the voices of survivors are clearly heard so that responses to their needs are met.

We also propose measures to develop a more accurate picture of the scale of the problem. We recommend that better engagement with the National Referral Mechanism is fostered through investing Competent Authority decision-making powers into one body. We also recognise that more has to be done to help survivors recover and fully reintegrate. Any society is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members, especially the most hidden and silent.

With particular reference to law enforcement and statutory agencies, we note that much has been written both in terms of procedures and guidelines but often remains at the theoretical level; there is little understanding or practical implementation on the ground. Our review seeks to correct this by making practical recommendations for local police forces, chief constables and Police and Crime Commissioners to implement; a proactive model for combatting modern slavery focused on the fact that modern slavery is a crime with a victim at the centre.

What surprised the Working Group most was the scale and complexity of child trafficking both into and within the UK. Child victims of modern slavery often go unrecognised and an appalling number go missing from care. Current child protection measures are not being consistently applied. If they were, a more successful approach to identifying and keeping children safe from harm would be developed. Child trafficking is serious child abuse, and must be recognised and responded to so that children are kept safe from harm.The provision of safe accommodation and aftercare is a vital next step that needs to be urgently taken.This report highlights the disturbing cases of the internal trafficking of British children for sexual exploitation, and makes recommendations for tackling this appalling crime through properly equipping police and social services.

The private sector also has a significant role to play in ensuring that modern slavery is eradicated. It is essential that businesses ensure that supply and product chains as well as business practices are slave-free. We recommend that the Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains (Eradication of Slavery) Bill be enacted in the UK.This Bill sends a positive message to the business world, not negatively forcing companies’ hands but encouraging them to look into the problem. Best practices that exist can be shared, increasing the positive social impact of companies.This Bill actively engages the business sector in the fight against modern slavery.This is not about regulation, but about transparency.The Bill allows consumers and investors to make informed decisions, and gives space for companies already doing good work to showcase their efforts to ensure their supply chains are free from slavery.

During the review process many NGOs were consulted and gave evidence. Whereas many helpfully contributed to this report, some did not. Constructive engagement by all parties in both the private and public sector and government and non-governmental sectors is vital if there is to be a successful response to the issue.

The Prime Minister has stated that he wants the UK to lead the world in confronting modern slavery.3 We commend this report to the Prime Minister and Government in its entirety. Implementation of our recommendations would be a radical step forward for the UK.

Finally, I want to thank the members of the Working Group for their hard work and contribution to the whole process. We didn’t always agree, but worked through to a healthy consensus. Special thanks must go to Lucy Maule at the Centre for Social Justice who has worked tirelessly as the lead researcher on this project. I also want to thank James Ewins, Deputy Working Group Chairman, for his commitment and time during the course of this review.This was a new venture for the CSJ but an important one: modern slavery is the major social justice issue of our day and must be not just exposed, but abolished.