Rewrite Modern Slavery Bill offences to make new law work

08 April 2014

In a report published today, Tuesday 8th April 2014, the Committee charged with scrutinising the UK’s proposed new anti-slavery laws says the law must be simplified and strengthened, and the focus of the legislation must shift to the victims of slavery: changes that are “morally right and fundamental to effective prosecution”.

The Chair of the Committee, Frank Field MP, said he hoped “that the Committee has risen to the Home Secretary’s challenge to help her introduce a Bill that will lead the world in combating this heinous crime of human slavery”.

The Committee’s report calls on Government, law enforcement agencies and business all to do more to protect the victims of slavery and tackle the crimes of modern slavery.

Steve McQueen, the Oscar-winning director of 12 Years a Slave, has lent his support to the report. In a statement released with the report, Mr McQueen said:

“There is much in the history of the United Kingdom in relation to slavery that our country should be ashamed of. But one thing that all British people can be justifiably proud is of our anti-slavery tradition stretching back to people such as Equiano, Clarkson, Wilberforce, and the Quakers, and carried on since 1839 by Anti-Slavery International of which I am proud to be a patron.

The authors of this report can honourably stand in that tradition. They have listened to the evidence and considered it with great care. Their recommendations are humane and principled. More than that they have grasped the complexity of contemporary trafficking and forced labour in the United Kingdom and have set forth clearly the fundamentals of what is necessary to tackle it effectively.

I warmly commend this report and pay tribute to the Members of the committee who have produced it. Their work has honoured Parliament and the country.”

Modern slavery in the UK and its supply chains takes many forms. Adults and children are exploited in the sex industry, through forced labour, domestic servitude in the home, and forced criminal activity such as marijuana farming. The victims include British schoolchildren groomed, abducted and forced to have sex, children brought into the United Kingdom for benefit fraud, and people who are trafficked or come to the UK legitimately and voluntarily to work but are enslaved once they are here, among many others.

Estimates of the scale of the problem are unreliable and vary widely, but it has been estimated for example that in the UK there are currently thousands of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation alone.

The Committee presents its own version of the Modern Slavery Bill. This includes sweeping changes to parts of the draft Bill which define the offences. The Committee recommends the creation of six offences: slavery of children and adults, child exploitation, exploitation, child trafficking, trafficking, and facilitating the commission of an offence of modern slavery. The Committee believes the Bill as drafted, without giving greater protections to victims, would do little to address the current problems securing convictions of traffickers and slave-masters.

The Committee calls on Government to:

  • simplify the criminal offences in the Bill to ensure more convictions
  • recognise the special case of children by creating separate offences of exploiting and trafficking a child; making clear that children cannot consent to modern slavery, and  making provision for distinct child assistance and support 
  • put the principles of victim care and services into the law itself and make it easier for victims to claim compensation
  • establish a statutory system of children’s advocates
  • ensure that victims are not prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit while enslaved 
  • establish a fund for legal services for the victims of modern slavery
  • strengthen the asset recovery regime to seize the illicit gains made from modern slavery 
  • revisit recent Domestic Worker visa rule changes that have “unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery.” 
  • ensure there is a clear separation between immigration decisions and decisions on modern slavery victimhood; there is clearly a conflict of interest
  • ensure the independence of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner to establish the post as a focal point for galvanising the fight against modern slavery
  • require quoted companies to report on measures they have taken to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains, ensuring that goods and services sold in the UK are free from the taint of slavery and supporting those firms that already perform well in this area
  • introduce a review mechanism so that as the criminal trade of modern slavery evolves, so does the legislation

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The shift to the focus on victims is not only the morally right thing to do in and of itself, it is essential if we are to get the prosecutions necessary to try to end this evil.

We must conclude that for parts of this Bill, amendments will not be sufficient to make good, workable, effective legislation. Some parts of it need a rewrite.

This is ground-breaking legislation that will influence law and the fight against modern slavery around the globe. The world is watching: we have to get this right. In the 19th Century British politicians sought to abolish the international slave trade and end one of the most deplorable practices in history. Their hard-fought victory remains one of our Parliament’s finest achievements. We must not betray that legacy – or the victims of slavery.

We must make life as difficult as possible for today’s slave masters and traffickers, and the position of the victims of slavery must be transformed. This must now be central to Parliament’s consideration of the Bill."

Baroness Butler-Sloss said:

"We applaud the stated aims of this Bill, and the Home Secretary's wish to take the battle to the slave masters and traffickers, but we are concerned that this Bill as currently drafted will not achieve what it must. It has overlooked the position of victims both as victims in need of support, but also as essential to getting convictions.

Unless and until the protection of victims, and the provision of support and services to them, are put on a statutory footing at the heart of this legislation, there is a risk that we will turn victims into criminals. Apart from the fact that this would be morally wrong, it is also self-defeating. These are among the most heinous crimes imaginable:  we must protect its victims and ensure they can act as witnesses  able help to secure convictions for the crimes committed against them."

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