Tackling Modern Slavery

Just over two years since the Prime Minister’s landmark Modern Slavery Act came into force, Anti-Slavery Day represents an ideal opportunity to assess just how far we have come in our fight against this horrendous crime.

Impressive progress has been made in raising awareness of this barbaric crime and sending a resounding message that the UK will not tolerate the exploitation of the vulnerable.

Three years ago this scourge was firmly restricted to the shadows; the term ‘modern slavery’ was hardly in the public consciousness, while it remained a brutal reality for thousands of people living all around us – often exploited in plain sight.

Today you would struggle to find someone who couldn’t name an example of this appalling crime – from a domestic servant, to a young man or woman forced to work for many hours at a car wash for little to no pay. We as a country are now painfully aware of the suffering being inflicted every day. And thankfully we are seeing new prosecutions brought each month and thousands of innocent victims protected.

But the problem is far from solved and it is not going to be without further action to develop our knowledge about this appalling crime and adjust our response accordingly. Earlier this year, the Home Office undertook a comprehensive analysis of the nature of modern slavery in the UK. We were already ahead of most countries in producing a rigorous assessment of the scale of the issue in the country – with an estimated 10,000-13,000 potential victims – but we also wanted to know more about the nature of the crime, to help build on the very limited evidence base around it.

Our research, published recently, identified 17 distinct types of modern slavery under four broad groups – domestic servitude, sexual, labour and criminal exploitation. This includes British children being groomed and subsequently enslaved by urban gangs to bring illegal drugs to people in Cornwall and around the country, collecting the money and returning.

This knowledge, while shocking, is essential to developing the best possible response to this terrible crime. We will use it to improve our understanding of how to prevent people falling into slavery. And it will help us to develop further guidance for front-line workers, and to help banks and other institutions identify patterns of behaviour so they can disrupt these predators and help us further raise awareness of this terrible form of abuse.

But no matter what we do to eradicate the sickening and inhuman crimes associated with modern slavery here in the UK, true success can only be achieved by looking beyond our own borders and taking the fight onto the global stage.

In 2015 world leaders agreed a new set of universal goals and targets which all countries need to strive for to achieve sustainable development, and the UK successfully pushed for a target on eradicating human trafficking, modern slavery, forced labour and child labour. And in September this year during a Meeting of the UN General Assembly, 37 countries endorsed the Prime Minister’s call to action. At the same time the UK pledged to double its aid spending on modern slavery to £150m.

This includes £33.5m funding towards achieving that goal by targeting it in high-risk countries, from where we know victims are regularly trafficked to the UK.

Last year the Prime Minister announced £5m of this funding to address modern slavery in Nigeria, and today I am pleased to announce that we will be investing £3m to tackle the issue in Vietnam, from where we know so many victims are trafficked with the promise of a better life, only to find themselves enslaved in brothels, cannabis factories or nail bars.

This money will help to catch offenders, support victims and stop people falling into slavery in the first place.

The Prime Minister’s Modern Slavery Taskforce is driving forward the domestic and global response, and just this week agreed improvements to the National Referral Mechanism, the system we use to identify and support victims in this country.

Those who would profit from modern slavery, are finding it more challenging to ply their despicable trade today than at the start of 2015 – while in the UK victims have a world-leading support network.

But we are under no illusion that this is a fight that will be won quickly or easily. it is vital that we continue to develop our knowledge, to adapt our tactics, put invest both locally and globally and, most importantly, put victims at the heart of everything we do if we are to truly consign slavery to the history books.

First published in the Falmouth Wave