Modern Slavery and the UK
The third series of Committee Corridor, the podcast from the House of Commons Select Committees, launches today. In the opening episode, new host and Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Joanna Cherry KC MP explores different perspectives on the issue of modern slavery.
Special guests, former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Professor Dame Sara Thornton; Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion MP; and member of the Home Affairs Committee, Tim Loughton MP give their views on the urgent priorities around modern slavery and the UK Government’s response to it.
The podcast recognises the scale of the problem within the UK. Sara Thornton warns that “in 2021, 12,600 potential victims were identified, but in fact… the number experts predict is probably around a hundred thousand”. She also highlights the global aspect, adding, “forced labour is pervasive in global supply chains, and the focus really, needs to be on finding it and fixing it, and ensure that those who are affected, those who are exploited, have some sort of reparation or remedy.”
The former Anti-Slavery Commissioner welcomed the impact of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, in particular the “genuinely world-leading” efforts to address “forced labour risks in these very long global opaque supply chains”. However, she warned that, in her view, the UK was now lagging behind international partners and the Government had changed focus, “the emphasis appears now to be on immigration and small boats, rather than… trying to catch up a little bit with the rest of the world on legislation about business and human rights.”
Measures in the Nationalities and Borders Act 2022 may make the fight against modern slavery more difficult, Sara Thornton said, “I was particularly concerned about provisions to restrict protections for those with criminal convictions. That would make it very much harder to prosecute offenders. I was also concerned that we were saying that potential victims would have a deadline in which to disclose their exploitation.”
The wide-ranging interview with the former Commissioner includes discussion of the definitions of modern slavery; the ‘chill effect’ of the 2022 Nationality and Borders Act on the confidence of potential victims to come forward; the problems of viewing modern slavery through the lens of immigration and debate on small boat crossings across the English Channel.
Tim Loughton raised concerns about the growth in claims from Albania, questioning “why has there been such a big upsurge in the numbers from a particular country now claiming modern day slavery?”. He argued that the UK needed to work closely with the Albanian authorities to understand the drivers of this growth and ensure potential victims of modern slavery were better supported.
The MP added, “there's a stronger case for people being looked after back in their own country where they've got family networks and other support networks, and can be properly protected if they are generally victims of modern-day slavery, rather than in a foreign country.” He further warned that wrongful claims of modern slavery risked undermining public confidence in wider the asylum system.
Sarah Champion called for greater awareness of gender-based violence, “we need to be very clear that women are particularly at risk of this. I've met too many young women who thought that they were coming for jobs and have ended up in the sex industry in this country.”
The Chair of the International Development Committee also highlighted Home Office failures in providing appropriate care for unaccompanied children who have claimed asylum in the UK. She said, “A number of those children are going missing. And when they are found, they are found to be in the slavery underground”. She called on the Government to do more to recognise these children as victims and ensure an adequate support network was in place to keep them safe.
Professor Dame Sara Thornton’s term of office finished in April 2022 and the post of Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner remains vacant. The delay in appointing a new Commissioner is of ‘huge concern’, she says. “We need a fearless, independent voice to scrutinise what the Government’s proposing in its desires to reform modern slavery legislation” she says.
“But also, more positively, we need somebody who can work with business, with law enforcement, with civil society to improve awareness, and improve the effectiveness of responses to modern slavery."
Joanna Cherry: Hello, and welcome to Committee Corridor. You join us for the first episode of our third series as our attention turns to matters of human rights and justice.
We've moved from international issues with the former chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Conservative MP, Tom Tugendhat, to the Cost-of-Living Crisis with Labour MP and Chair of the Business Committee, Darren Jones.
I'm Joanna Cherry, the Scottish National Party member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West, and Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. And I'll be your host for this series of Committee Corridor.
First up is the topic of modern slavery in the UK. It's closer than you think.
Victims of modern slavery have been found working in homes in the United Kingdom, in our agricultural fields, and in our supply chains. But the UK, once seen as a champion for victims of modern slavery, is now thought to be a bit less of a standard bearer.
There have been calls for changes to modern slavery laws to discourage the tide of small boats crossing the channel, but others, including former Prime Minister, Theresa May, have warned that changes mustn't make it harder for victims of modern slavery to make their case.
And they've also argued that conflating immigration, asylum, and human trafficking is hugely problematic. Later, we'll be hearing from two parliamentarians whose committees have been working in this area.
Sarah Champion chairs the International Development Committee, and is the Labour MP for Rotherham. And Tim Loughton is the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, and he sits on the Home Affairs Committee.
But first, I'm going to speak to Professor Dame Sara Thornton, who was the government's independent anti-slavery Commissioner until April last year, when she completed her three-year term of office.
Her role was created by the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, and it's to give independent advice on modern slavery issues, and how they should be addressed. No successor has been appointed by the government to the role of commissioner, as yet,
Joanna: Welcome to Committee Corridor, and we're delighted to have with us for this episode, Professor Dame Sara Thornton. Sara, can you tell us what makes an individual a victim of modern slavery.
Sara Thornton: In the UK, we use modern slavery as an umbrella term to describe slavery, human trafficking, domestic servitude, forced labour, and criminal exploitation. And in terms of victims, we've signed international agreements to protect victims of slavery and trafficking. And so, first responders such as police officers, border force officials, local authority workers, have responsibility to refer those who they think might be victims of modern slavery to the home office, so that support can be provided.
And this is known as the national referral mechanism. And support can be accommodation in a safe house, it can be healthcare, counseling, a support worker, or legal advice.
Joanna: And I mean, at the moment the problems with these small boat crossings are very topical, but can you help us understand the difference between human trafficking, people smuggling, and modern slavery. Am I right in thinking that these terms aren't really interchangeable?
Sara: No, they're not. And as I say, modern slavery is an umbrella term, which would include human trafficking but not people smuggling.
So, put simply, people are victims of human trafficking when they're moved for the purposes of exploitation, and they don't have to be moved across borders for that to happen. Whereas people smuggling, that's a crime against the state where people are moved illegally across borders. And it's frustrating when the terms are used interchangeably because they are different. Although in reality, for some victims, this situation is much, much more fluid. For example, they might seek to be smuggled across a border to pursue economic opportunities.
In doing so, though, they're putting their lives in the hands of criminals. And so, they might end up being exploited and end up in fact, being trafficked.
Joanna: The issue of modern slavery is very topical at the moment. Can you tell us what the current picture is and whether it's changed or not over recent years?
Sara: In September last year, the global slavery estimates were published, and they showed that 50 million people were in modern slavery across the globe, about 28 million in forced labour.
And that is in fact, 10 million more than when the estimates were last done five years ago. The issue has been very much exacerbated by COVID, by conflict and instability, poverty and climate change, all of which create vulnerability to exploitation.
And then if we look at the UK situation, in 2021, 12,600 potential victims were identified, but in fact, using estimate methodology, the number experts predict is probably around a hundred thousand. So, it is a substantial issue both in the UK and throughout the world.
Joanna: Now, the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, was very proud of her work, which led to the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, which brought existing offences into law across the United Kingdom, and created new duties and powers to protect victims and to prosecute offenders.
Can you give us a feel for how successful that act has been?
Sara: Well, the act brought together all the legislation on slavery and trafficking. Unfortunately, that's not led to a huge leap in the numbers of prosecutions because cases are often very lengthy and complex and do require expertise.
But the act also provided for modern slavery risk orders, and modern slavery prevention orders, which have been used increasingly over the years to protect victims from known offenders. The Act also established the role of Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, which was a role which I held until April last year. And so, of course, I think it's a good piece of legislation. Unfortunately, the post is currently vacant.
But I think the bit of the legislation, which was genuinely world-leading, was the legislation on supply chains. And that very much was one of the first countries in which there was that emphasis on greater transparency, and really understanding what are the forced labour risks in these very long global opaque supply chains.
Joanna: So, as I understand that, under the legislation, business and procurement leaders in the United Kingdom have a responsibility to check their supply chains for modern slavery.
I mean, what does that involve? And is UK business doing enough to fulfil its obligations?
Sara: Businesses that are in scope of the legislation are generally writing modern slavery statements as required. But I would say having read quite a lot of them, there's a tendency for them to be about policy rather than performance. Maybe a bit of a tick box.
My argument would be that forced labour is pervasive in global supply chains, and the focus really needs to be on finding it and fixing it, and ensure that those who are affected, those who are exploited, have some sort of reparation or remedy.
And one of the things I currently do is work with investors to help them to use their influence on business to tackle forced labour in supply chains.
Joanna: I mean, can you give us an example of businesses in the United Kingdom where forced labour exists in the supply chain?
Sara: Well, there've been lots of different examples. One of the cases that I particularly highlighted when I was the commissioner was a case of forced labour in the agricultural sector where organised crime groups were bringing vulnerable people from Poland, hundreds of them we believe, and they were working in fields and in factories.
They were having all their money, bar about £20 a week taken from them, and they were living in the most squalid conditions, and they were absolutely restricted in their movements. And they were under great fear and felt for a long time until one of them asked for help, that they really couldn't escape. Those farms were in the tier one of the supply chains for all our major supermarkets.
Joanna: You spoke there, Sara, about working with investors to try, and address modern slavery in supply chains. Are there any lessons for us in the United Kingdom from practice elsewhere in the world?
Sara: Both the United States and the European Union have been making great progress in this area.
In the United States, they use import bans to stop goods made with forced labour entering United States, and they have two pieces of legislation; the Tariff Act, and then the recent Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which came into effect last year.
And there were examples which I've come across such as Top Glove in Malaysia, which made lots of rubber gloves very, very busy during COVID. But huge issues about forced labour.
The Americans put an import ban on all their goods entering the American market. But the company really put great energy and effort into fixing the problem, and paying millions of dollars in reparation to the workers that had been affected. So, it can have an impact.
And then in the European Union, there are proposals to introduce both mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence for businesses. And also, more recently in the EU, they announced forced labour import bans. So, both of those areas really kind of making great progress.
The UK government, on the other hand, did announce some modest improvements to transparency and supply chains in last year's Queen speech. But to date, no bill has been published.
And unfortunately, the emphasis appears now to be on immigration and small boats, rather than on really just kind of trying to catch up a little bit with the rest of the world on legislation about business and human rights.
Joanna: Well, just picking up on that current emphasis, of course, the Nationality and Borders Act came into force last year, and part five of it deals with modern slavery. What's been the impact of that on the United Kingdom's policy approach to modern slavery?
Sara: There was a great deal of concern about this act. In terms of implementation. I think it's still too early to say, but for example, I was particularly concerned about provisions to restrict protections for those with criminal convictions. That would make it very much harder to prosecute offenders.
I was also concerned that we were saying that potential victims would have a deadline in which to disclose their exploitation. I suspect both measures will be hard to implement but those sorts of things cause great concern.
Joanna: And why would it be so problematic for potential victims of human trafficking to have a deadline to disclose their information?
Sara: Well, can you imagine saying to victims of, say, rape or sexual assault: "If you don't tell us what's happened to you within a month, we will take the view that that undermines your credibility."
That's what the law is saying with regard to potential victims of modern slavery — that if you don't disclose within a set period of time, we will view that as undermining your credibility. There are all sorts of reasons why victims are not able to disclose.
For a start, they need to trust the person they're speaking to, but also, they might well be severely traumatized, and so their recall is not straightforward. Their memory will come back piecemeal over time. And what we find with victims is often, that as they develop more trusting relationships with support workers, for example, that's when you get full disclosure.
So, I just think as a comparison with other victims, it's kind of a shocking idea. But also, it really doesn't in any way take into account everything we know about the way in which victims disclose the awful things that have happened to them.
Joanna: Yeah, I mean, you previously worked as a police officer, and I previously worked as a sex crimes prosecutor, and those are simply not the same standards that we apply to complainers and sexual offences across the United Kingdom. Are they? It's well-recognised and there's expert evidence which shows that many victims of sexual violence take a long time to disclose what's happened to them, and that that's well-recognised in our domestic courts dealing with domestic victims.
So, it does seem a bit surprising that we wouldn't recognise that in relation to victims of modern slavery.
Sara: That's exactly my point.
Joanna: In terms of the Nationality and Borders Act, responsibility for modern slavery has shifted from the Minister for Safeguarding to the Minister for Immigration, and sits with their responsibilities on illegal migration and asylum.
Do you think that's an important distinction? I mean, what does it tell us about the government's direction of travel?
Sara: I think it shows that the government are prioritizing immigration control over the protection of the vulnerable.
In fact, in December, ministerial responsibilities were updated to show that the safeguarding minister did have responsibility for wider safeguarding policy and modern slavery policy in general, and the Immigration Minister just responsibility for abuse of the system.
But of course, I think the problem remains because the Immigration Minister is so much more senior than the Safeguarding Minister.
Joanna: I mean, is it appropriate, in your opinion, to look at modern slavery through the lens of immigration policy?
Sara: I think it's particularly problematic. When Theresa May was Home Secretary and then Prime Minister, so much was done, I think, to think about this as a crime.
The trafficking of human beings, the enslavement of human beings is a crime against vulnerable victims. And to look at it just through an immigration lens is potentially so damaging.
Joanna: And I mean, what do you think the impact of the new act could be on victims of modern slavery?
Sara: I think the act in general had a chill effect on the fight against modern slavery because the focus was really on the removal of support rather than additional protections. And I think that undermines the confidence of what are very vulnerable people. It undermines their confidence to come forward for help and particularly, if their immigration status is not secure.
And I think that could lead to a change in reported numbers. If you are an adult and a first responder wants to refer you as a potential victim, you have to consent to be referred. And interestingly, in 2021, over 3,000 potential victims decline that support. My concern is that the number of potential victims who will decline support in future will only increase.
Joanna: The Home Secretary has said that some people are gaming the system. Some people are gaming the system of anti-slavery law and human trafficking law in order to avoid being deported. Do you think there's any evidence for that?
Sara: So, the claim of abuse in the system has been repeatedly made over the last couple of years. And I and other colleagues in the sector and other politicians and those who are interested, have asked for the evidence of that abuse. And I'm afraid it has never been provided.
The Home Office positive decision rate for victims of modern slavery is 90%. That, in my view, doesn't suggest that there is abuse of the system. And it's been particularly an issue in terms of the small boats.
I agree entirely that we need to stop people taking perilous journeys in small boats, and there needs to be a considered and detailed analysis of this problem. But what happens is the small boats this year over the summer was characterized as Albanians falsely claiming modern slavery.
You know, most people who are crossing the channel are actually from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and they're rightly granted asylum in this country.
So, first of all, to characterize it as an Albanian economic migrant issue, I think is not right in fact. But also, when I've dug into the figures, very few of those making the crossing are actually being referred to as potential victims of modern slavery.
In 2021, I estimated it to be about 4% of those making the crossing. And I've only got partial data for 2022, but I think it's a similar level. So, there's a real issue about the rhetoric and the lack of evidence and data to stand up the claims that are being made.
Joanna: Thank you. Now, you completed your three-year term as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner in April, 2022. And your predecessor, the first Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, resigned citing government interference in his role.
When you left, you told the Independent newspaper that the government's asylum overhaul was driven by political calculation rather than by expertise, and that the fight against modern slavery in Britain wasn't what it had been. What did you mean by that?
Sara: I think the points that I've just made about the way in which the evidence is just not there for the sort of rhetoric that's being used particularly around the small boats issue, that was my concern there.
In terms of the fight against modern slavery not being what it used to be, we had a Home Secretary, then a Prime Minister who championed the need to tackle modern slavery.
I'm afraid subsequent governments have really just focused on the alleged abuse of the system. And that is very, very different. And it's something that of course, is noticed in the rest of the world. We did have a very strong reputation for taking a lead in the fight against modern slavery, that is no longer the case.
Joanna: And of course, Theresa May herself has recently expressed concern about the government's direction of travel, hasn't she?
Sara: She has. She's spoken up in parliament on several occasions. And I think that she is right to do so.
When ministers, when the Prime Minister make these comments about alleged abuse, I think they just undermine the confidence of the most vulnerable people to come forward. As I say, I think it has a chill effect on confidence, and I think we should all be concerned about that.
Joanna: Now, looking to the future, what would be your hopes or indeed, fears for the next independent commissioner?
The government are under a legal duty to appoint one, but it seems to be taking a long time for them to do that. What are the consequences if they don't?
Sara: I mean, I think the delay in appointment is of huge concern. We need a fearless, independent voice to scrutinize what the government's proposing in its desires to reform modern slavery legislation.
But also, more positively, we need somebody who can work with business, with law enforcement, with civil society to improve awareness, and improve the effectiveness of responses to modern slavery. And in particular, an Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner can focus on evidence and data and research. And I think when it comes to public policy, those sorts of contributions are really important to both understanding the problem and developing effective responses to it.
Joanna: So, that's really a plea for evidence-based policymaking, isn't it, Sara?
Sara: It is. And as somebody who spends some of my time in university now, I think the importance of using the insights from research, using the evidence and the data to assess objectively and independently is a really key part of public discourse.
Joanna: Professor Dame Sara Thornton, that's been a very interesting discussion, and thank you for your time.
Sara: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.
Joanna: Several select committees are looking into different aspects of modern slavery. We are going to speak to two Members of Parliament now who are involved in that work.
Tim Loughton is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Worthing and Shoreham, and he sits on the Home Affairs Committee. It's been looking into channel crossings and the wider issues of migration and asylum.
The International Development Committee has recently begun investigating how the government spends aid on refugees here in the United Kingdom. It's chaired by Sarah Champion MP, the Labour Member of Parliament for Rotherham.
Tim, you're very welcome. Can I ask you: the Home Affairs Committee have been looking at the issues of migration and asylum along with our separate inquiry into the channel crossings. Where does modern slavery fit into that picture?
Tim: Well, hi Joanna, and this is obviously, a really topical subject and it's taken up a lot of time with the Home Affairs Select Committee. We did a big study on the channel crossings before last summer, but obviously, it wasn't an issue which stopped over the summer.
So, we've done various hearings since. Including the particular issue about the very large number of Albanians coming across in small boats. And the particularly topical feature that many of those Albanians come across in small boats claiming asylum are also now, claiming they are victims of modern-day slavery.
Joanna: Sara Thornton says that really, that's only a tiny percentage of asylum seekers, the Albanians. If you look at the overall picture, what evidence have you heard on that?
Tim: Well, if you look at the figures for last year, I think just over 43,000 people came across the channel in small boats in 2022. And of course, they were coming throughout the year. It wasn't just a feature of the, of the summer.
Now, of those 43,000, just over 13,000 were Albanian nationals, the vast majority of whom were single young men. And yet, nothing has changed in Albania. That figure was just 50 a couple of years ago.
There's not a civil war in Albania. They’ve not had a huge issue around human rights abuse. But all of a sudden, we saw this large surge in Albanian nationals coming across the channel that was part of the problem we have with the crowding crisis at Manston, that obviously, was a big problem in the summer. And then with that, there's been a big surge in the numbers of people that claiming that they are also victims of modern-day slavery who happen to be Albanians.
So, there's a bit of a trend going on here. And obviously, it's not terribly credible that all of a sudden, a lot of Albanians need to leave Albania, and all of a sudden, a lot of these Albanians are victims of modern-day slavery.
So, hence, we had the Albanian Ambassador in front of us a few weeks ago to ask him some questions about why this phenomenon is now happening.
Joanna: The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman has suggested that some people are using modern slavery laws to game the asylum system. Now, on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, when we put this to expert witnesses who came to speak to us about this issue, they said that there was no evidence, no data to suggest that people are gaming or abusing the system using modern slavery laws.
Now, you were able to put questions directly to the Home Secretary. Did she produce any evidence or data to support the claim that people are gaming the asylum system?
Tim: From memory, we didn't go into great detail about modern-day slavery when we interviewed the Home Secretary, there was quite a lot else we wanted to tackle on around the boats, and of course, the whole safe and legal routes which was my line of questioning, which seemed to have got quite a lot of attention.
I just think the figures speak for themselves. And why has there been such a big upsurge in the numbers from a particular country now claiming modern day slavery?
So, when we tackled the Albanian Ambassador to say, “Is it safe in Albania?” He said, “Yes”. “Is there any reason for people to be fleeing from Albania and to claim asylum in other European countries?” He said, “No”. And indeed, many other EU countries do not recognise asylum claims from Albania at all.
But we also asked him about those people claiming to be the victims of modern-day slavery, and he agreed there may well be some because of criminal gangs operating, which we know, and they're responsible for people coming across the channel and operating some of the boats as well as drug gangs and others.
But we also put it to him that, of course, if you are identified as a victim of modern-day slavery, that does not entitle you to residency in this case, the UK. It gives you some safeguards whilst it's being investigated but it doesn't mean that you have then to stay in the UK.
And I would suggest that actually, there's a stronger case for people being looked after back in their own country where they've got family networks and other support networks, and can be properly protected if they are generally victims of modern-day slavery, rather than in a foreign country at the hands of some of these gangs, pimps, whoever they may be away from familiar family, friends, and networks.
So, if people are claiming modern-day slavery in the UK, fine, we need to be working very closely with the Albanian authorities to see what Albania is doing to make sure one; that they're looked after in Albania before they do get trafficked if they are being trafficked, or that they can go back to Albania and be properly protected by any criminal gangs who are threatening them.
Joanna: I suppose ultimately we'll have to wait for these Albanians claims to work their way through the system before it can be judged whether or not they're gaming the system. But I take your point about the increase in Albanians coming across on the small channel crossings.
Tim: And the point also on that journey is, of course, there is this huge backlog. So, we're looking at quite historic data here, and one of the alarming things when we were questioning Home Office officials was that 96% of the cases (this was before Christmas, of those coming across the channel) have not yet been resolved.
And those that have been resolved tend to be the more vulnerable, particularly women and younger people that they're looking at first because they are likely to have a stronger claim for asylum and protection.
So, I think we're going to have to wait a while until at long last, the Home Office has caught up on its backlog really to analyse the legitimacy of those people coming across the channel and claims for asylum as well as those then claiming for modern-day slavery being victims of this as well.
Joanna: In the last Queen's speech in May, 2022, there was an announcement of a new modern slavery bill, mostly to apply to England and Wales with some parts affecting all of the UK.
And the changes aimed to increase transparency and accountability for business and supply chains, but they also proposed to enshrine in law legal obligations to victims of modern slavery.
But we just heard from Professor Dame Sara Thornton that there has been no movement there. Do you think the policy emphasis has shifted and is now on the small boats crisis?
Tim: I think it's become more complicated. So, clearly, the legislation which Theresa May pioneered with the Modern-Day Slavery Act back in 2015, was a leading piece of ground-breaking legislation and it’s to the UK government's credit that we have got those protections and recognising that this abhorrent practice is going on in the 21st century.
I think recent events, particularly with the numbers coming from Albania, now, all of a sudden, presenting as victims of modern-day slavery have led to these suggestions. And you are right, we need more data and as I've just said about the backlog of cases to prove that this is a way of gaming the system for some people. And of course, the biggest victims of all of that are those who are genuinely victims of modern-day slavery who've been grouped in with everybody else who are claiming it fraudulently.
So, I think we needed to sort out clarity around the law anyway to make sure that those people who are genuine victims are seen as victims rather than seen as coming here illegally and being part of the illegal migrant problems.
So, we need greater protections there but also, we need to make it much clearer what the duties and responsibilities of employers and landlords are in this country as well before they unwittingly take on somebody who turns out to be a victim of modern-day slavery, or a perpetrator of modern-day slavery as well.
Joanna: I mean, I suppose one of the best ways to monitor how the law is operating within the United Kingdom, and to make sure it's operating fairly and not being abused, would be to have in place an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. It's his or her function to be an independent monitoring body, which falls under the auspices of the Home Office.
Now, as you know, Tim, the post has been empty since April 2022. Why do you think it's taking so long to appoint a successor to Dame Sara Thornton, and what are the risks of the delay?
Tim: Yes, I think you’re right. It's a really important role and particularly, as it was a new law, you need to make sure that there is some expert monitoring of how it's working and that it's being used as it was intended to be used. And that the Home Office is respecting the law as it was intended to be used as well and there are proper protections being followed by all parties for those genuine victims.
I don't know why the post hasn't been filled since April ‘22. I think it's really important that a new candidate is put in posters soon as possible, and at least because of this conflagration has now become between modern-day slavery and people being trafficked across the channel.
We have of course had several Home Secretaries over that time. And then we've had the Home Secretary has been a Home Secretary twice.
So, it's clearly on their to-do list, but I think it needs to be shunted up the priorities rather more, because it's become very topical issue, and it's all part of the log jam that there is in the Home Office and border force in the processing of migration cases.
And I think the Anti-Slavery Commissioner will have an important role to make sure that that can be done without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And people need protection actually falling foul of the blitz that we need to have on speeding up all these asylum applications and clearing that backlog.
Joanna: Well, thanks, Tim. It's really interesting to hear your perspective as a member of the Home Affairs Select committee. So, we're really grateful to you for giving up your time today. Thanks.
Tim: It's been a pleasure.
Joanna: We've heard from Tim about his concerns about the number of people, particularly Albanians, making the dangerous crossing from France to England in small boats.
But I'm now going to speak to Sarah Champion, who is the Labour MP for Rotherham, and the Chair of the International Development Committee. And her concerns are very different.
The International Development Committee has recently published the government's response to a report that you did on preventing mass atrocities, and you've secured a win.
I think ministers have accepted that a cross-government approach is necessary. Why is that important to our conversation today on modern slavery?
Sarah Champion: Well, slavery doesn't operate in isolation. It a horrific by-product of when things go horribly wrong in countries around the world.
So, when we look at atrocities, they drive people from their homes. I mean, you only need to look in sort of refugees coming from Ukraine. It's not their choice to be fleeing their country, to be leaving behind everything that they have fought for and have had for all of their lives. They're doing it because of the atrocities that are being perpetrated by Russia.
If we don't try and prevent atrocities and crimes against humanity, we can do it by spotting the early warning signs. But if we don't then we see other people coming into those spaces seeking to use those tensions to radicalise groups, causing unrest, causing terrorism.
And I just think from a moral point of view, when there are very clear steps that lead to atrocities, that lead to genocide, why on earth wouldn't we as a country try and do more to prevent it, not only for the people that are involved, but also, for global stability.
And so it's quite frustrating that the government haven't gone as far as we recommended and brought a national strategy to prevent enocide. But we are very glad that they now have a central hub that is looking to coordinate our efforts around the world.
Joanna: And I suppose, I guess, what I'm really keen to understand in relation to what we're discussing today, is how the prevention of mass atrocities might impact on the prevention of modern slavery in the United Kingdom.
Sarah: It's a very small step for someone to begin the process of fleeing their country to being picked up by someone who is looking to traffic and exploit them. We see this happen time and time again.
One of the biggest frustrations I've had since being Chair of IDC was when the horror started to unfold in Ukraine, and we saw unaccompanied children on the borders , and I couldn't get anybody, either minister nor journalist to look into the safeguarding of those children.
Everybody was so positive about people just turning up with cars to take children to sanctuary that no one sought to think well, have those people actually got malintent behind them.
nfortunately, what we saw, and we see it in our own country, and we've recently had a debate on unaccompanied children going missing in this country. There are people that look to exploit those that are most desperate.
Joanna: And just on the issue of Ukraine and unaccompanied children, in December, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 40% of the millions of Ukrainians who fled to European countries are children with unaccompanied children numbering in the tens of thousands.
Now, I know that your committee's about to look at the following issue, which is that government, the UK government, spending UK aid money on refugees here in the UK, rather than spending it abroad.
What contribution might such money help to making people more resilient to trafficking?
Sarah: Oh, I mean, the biggest frustration is that rather than the Home Office using its own resources, it is taking money from the ODA, the foreign aid budget to fund refugees in this country, rather than support the people that are poorest in the world, who are probably the very same people that if we could provide opportunities and stability in their own countries, they wouldn't be needing to seek refuge in the UK.
I think the frustration that I have is that the Home Office, particularly, doesn't seem to accept a duty of care towards the children that come over here. In the debate that we had recently, it was said that 4,600 unaccompanied children have been accommodated since July 21 in the UK by the Home Office.
But a number of those children are going missing. And when they are found, they are found to be in the slavery underground. So, what we need the government to do is be upfront and acknowledge that many of those unaccompanied children are being deliberately trafficked into the UK.
We need to actively be trying to break up the trafficking rings, but also, we need to be doing much more to recognise those children as victims rather than seeing them as somehow complicit with this process.
And if we could immediately see them as victims and put the support in that we give to other victims of crime, I think that would be the most robust way to try and break these networks.
Joanna: Moving our focus from children to gender-based violence, I understand that the government's international development strategy, which was published last year, references modern slavery in its commitment to drive international action to end all forms of gender-based violence.
And it talks about scaling up proven approaches to prevent violence, including modern slavery. That's the only reference though. Is this really enough?
Sarah: It's nowhere near enough. I'm going to be somewhat controversial here. I'm an abolitionist when it comes to prostituted people, and the majority of women that are trafficked into the UK are brought in to be prostituted.
What we need to see is an acknowledgement that there are different forms of modern slavery, and we need to be very clear that women are particularly at risk of this. I've met too many young women who thought that they were coming for jobs and have ended up in the sex industry in this country.
And until the government is front-footed and recognises that, I just don't see that they're able to tackle the problem properly.
One of the things that I've noticed when I've done work on this internationally is where countries do have a zero policy around buying sex. The traffickers don't tend to take women to those countries.
So, there's a direct knock-on effect that if we do not address what's going on with sexual exploitation here in this country, all we’re doing is allowing it to flourish.
So, I need the government to be a bit grown up about this and actually, deal with the problem rather than worrying too much about how it might be seen and criticised by some people.
Joanna: I hear you. That's very interesting. Now, just as my final question to you, obviously, you're Chair of the International Development Committee and your focus is on international affairs as opposed to domestic.
So, can I ask you this; what would be the impact to the UK if modern slavery wasn't addressed properly at the international level?
Sarah: I mean, what I worry about is when we go into trade deals, we ought to be having zero tolerance for any form of slavery in the supply chains. And it's not enough to say we scrutinise tier one. We need to know all the way down to those little tiny family-run businesses that there isn't slavery within that system.
Because as long as we keep on turning a blind eye, whether that's solar panels that are coming out of China from slavery in the Xinjiang province, or whether it's looking at family-run businesses that are using exploitative child labour in Bangladesh, for example — we have the power to, if not end modern slavery, then by the government working in a joined up way, we have the power to actually mitigate, limit, and try and prevent it.
And I just don't understand why every government department hasn't got that one goal, because while there are still people being exploited around the world so that we can get a cheap pair of trainers or green beans in winter, I can't live comfortably with that.
We are the sixth wealthiest country in the world. I think we have a duty to people who are the poorest in the world, and the best way that we can act is to try and end modern slavery, which it doesn't alleviate poverty, it keeps people in poverty. And so, we're in this endless loop when we could be trying to break free of that.
Joanna: So, what you're really saying is if the United Kingdom wants to break modern slavery internationally, then oh, we have to have an integrated policy across departments and there needs to be particular focus on trade and investment policy?
Sarah: You have put that much more eloquently than I have. But also, just as we did with the Modern Slavery Bill, and then Act, we could be leading the world on this. You know, we could be the player that aims to stamp out modern slavery.
And I want that to be our country and I think there will be an awful lot of support across the world if we are able to actually show how that's possible
Joanna: My thanks to all my guests today. Join me next time and we'll be looking at the Human Rights Act.
The Joint Committee on human rights has been digging into this and questions about the British Bill of Rights, and I'm looking forward to sharing that with you.
But before I go, what is a Joint Committee? Well, we operate as other select committees do with the added advantage that our members are drawn from across the House of Lords as well as the House of Commons.
This brings a mix of backgrounds and experience, which makes our agreed reports even more valuable, or at least I like to think so.
You can find out more about the work of the Lords from their monthly podcast available from all the usual podcast providers. And you can also listen there to every back episode of Committee Corridor. Subscribe, and leave us a review.
I'm Joanna Cherry, MP, and this has been Committee Corridor. Thanks for listening.
Image: Andrew Bailey, UK Parliament