11 Decemeber 2014
Modern slavery is a problem that must be urgently tackled both at home and abroad, but the Coalition’s Modern Slavery Bill leaves a lot to be desired, say critics.
The Modern Slavery Bill is currently in the Lords, and is set to pass through parliament before the next general election. The government is taking the opportunity to sing the praises of the ostensibly progressive Bill ahead of the election, but in reality its merits are weak.
The Bill has been described by experts as “a missed opportunity” and “a red herring”, in particular because it does not offer adequate victim protection.
Anthony Steen, who advised on the legislation and chairs the Human Trafficking Foundation said: “The bill is wholly and exclusively about law enforcement – but it shouldn’t be enforcement-based, it should be victim-based. We have majored on the wrong thing. It is positive in the sense that it is an entirely new initiative, but is it going to do anything?”
“The reason why we have so few convictions in Britain is that police scare the living daylights out of victims”, he said.
An amendment to the Bill has been made concerning maining overseas slavery, which will require companies to show how they ensure their supply chains are slavery free. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper responded: “At long last the government has recognised that more should be done on international business supply chains to stop slavery. We have been calling for stronger action from the start and we will look at the detailed proposals to make sure they go far enough. Reports of people being forced to work for no money, beaten and threatened with violence in the supply chain of products destined for UK shop shelves have shocked us all, and action is needed to protect human rights and promote ethical business”.
“Ministers also need to listen to calls for other reforms to the Modern Slavery Bill including stronger measures to protect trafficked children and outlaw exploitation.”
The National Crime Agency released figures in September, estimating that 2,744 people, including 602 children, were trafficked for exploitation in the UK in 2013, up on 2012 by 22%. The Salvation Army has seen a 135% rise in those requiring victim support, compared to three years ago.