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The Modern Slavery Bill: From Idea to Implementation

5 June 2014

The development and future of this Bill

New measures were announced yesterday to protect people who are trafficked into the UK, held against their will, and forced to work. The measures are contained in the Modern Slavery Bill, which the Home Office hopes will become law before the general election.

The Modern Slavery Bill is in response to the Council of Europe’s anti-trafficking Directive[1], which codified and introduced common provisions to strengthen the prevention of trafficking and the protection of victims. This was supposed to have been implemented into domestic law by April 2013, and is something which the AIRE Centre has long advocated for. The launch of this Bill was accompanied by much clamour regarding the UK’s aspiration to create a bill that “will influence legislation across the globe”[2]. As we highlight below, we found the initial Bill to be less than adequate in achieving this goal.

Earlier this year the AIRE Centre submitted written representations, as well as giving oral evidence, to the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee which was tasked with looking at the draft legislation. At the time we voiced our strong concerns about the general focus upon the prosecution of trafficking offences over the protection of victims. In particular,

  • We were concerned about  the lack of focus given to  the identification of trafficked persons;
  • the dearth of statutory protections, support and services  to which victims of trafficking should have access to;
  • the  inherent conflict of interest (and associated lack of competency) in the conflating of immigration and trafficking decision-making authorities for those suspected of being trafficked from outside the EU and;
  • the absence of an entirely independent ombudsman or commissioner who would have statutory powers to collect and request data and information on trafficking; monitor trends and assess the impact of policies and legislation relevant to trafficking.

In April of this year the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee, in an often blunt report, urged the Government to look again at their proposed legislation in order for it to be simpler, stronger and far more focused on victims if the UK were to tackle the "heinous crime" of slavery. We are therefore hopeful that the lofty promises made by the White paper will become, in the wake of the Joint Select Committee’s report, a reality - not simply to implement the requirements of Europe, but to acknowledge and try to repair the horrific experiences that survivors of this crime have suffered. In short we hope for an overhaul in the way that modern slavery is viewed and dealt with by authorities in the UK – an overhaul that prioritises the victim’s needs above all else.

In anticipation of the final wording of the Bill, we reiterate that in order to comply with legal obligations under EU law, article 4 of the European Convention, as well as our moral obligations to the victims of trafficking, any Bill must, before coming into law, include the following:

  • A wider definition of the 'means' required to establish trafficking;
  • The definition of exploitation should include exploitation for the purposes of begging or forced criminality;
  • That there  should be a clear obligation on authorities to properly identify victims;
  • That the EU requirement of a  National Referral Mechanism, or  equivalent, should be clearly set down in statute, and be  independent from other authorities, particularly the immigration service;
  • That there  should be a right to review or appeal a negative decision on identification;
  • And that protection provisions for victims must  include:
    • An appropriate recovery and reflection period
    • Medical, financial, housing, psychological and legal assistance (including access to legal aid;
    • Advocates or guardian’s for child victims to ensure appropriate support and access to education is provided
    • Residence permits granted to victims of trafficking so they are not forced to return to the country from which they have been trafficked and where their abusers often remain  
    • A suitable level of compensation to victims  
    • A clear commitment to the non-criminalisation of victims, particularly children, with regards to criminal or immigration offences committed as a result of being trafficked or exploited/controlled for the purposes of labour
  • A robust  assessment prior to  the  return of any suspected trafficking victim in terms of the possible risks they face on  return in terms of their personal health and safety;
  • Finally, an Anti-Slavery Commissioner must be independently appointed and accountable to Parliament, not to the Secretary of State. Their role should include the ability to review what other measures may be need to support and protect victims.












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