New slave-owners face life imprisonment

21 November 2014

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THE Government's Modern Slavery Bill will introduce new offences of holding a person "in slavery or servitude" and requiring somebody "to perform forced or compulsory labour". It will also be an offence to "arrange or facilitate the travel of another person . . . with a view to [that person's] being exploited", regardless of whether that person consents to the travel. Those guilty of the new offences face life imprisonment.

The Bill has been welcomed by Parliament's Joint Human Rights Select Committee but, in a report last week (just before the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords), the MPs and Lords on the Committee have said that it does not go far enough.

They welcomed the introduction of a new statutory defence for crimes committed by victims of trafficking while being held as slaves, but said that the proposed defence could be improved "by making clear on the face of the Bill that a child victim does not have to prove compulsion".

The Children's Society and UNICEF have both called for such a measure, arguing that "a statutory non-punishment provision is necessary, not only from a child safeguarding perspective but also to prevent the risk of secondary traumatisation to the child."

The committee also welcomed the creation of the post of a new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, but argued that the position envisaged in the Bill (of advising on good practice relating to law enforcement) is too limited and, as currently defined, cannot be described as independent of Government.

A government amendment at the Bill's Report Stage earlier this month incorporated "world leading provision" which will require businesses above a certain size-threshold that supply goods and services to "disclose each year what they have done to ensure that there is no modern slavery in their supply chains" or in any part of their own business. Companies will also have to include the statement on their websites, with a "prominent link" from their front pages.

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"There is a great deal to commend in the Modern Slavery Bill; and we welcome many of its provisions," Dr Hywel Francis MP, who chairs the committee, said, as the report was published. "However, there is much that can be done to make the Bill even better."

Speaking in the Bill's Second Reading debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday, the Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, welcomed the Bill and the Government's amendment, but questioned the level at which companies would be required to do this, because of "the way our economy is developing, with the devolution of much activity into very small-scale, local subcontracting enterprises". He said that this is where "much slavery happens, and it is well out of the purview of major operators, which have a vast scale of operation".

He gave the example "as basic as a car wash, and a traded group of people who are doing that labour. It is very difficult to catch that kind of gangmaster activity, where people gather a group of people, force them to do the job, pay them peanuts, often confiscate their passports, and entrap them where they do not know the language and do not have connections."

He welcomed the nomination of the former head of the Metropolitan Police Human Trafficking Unit, DI Kevin Hyland, as the first Anti-slavery Commissioner, saying that he had "been at the forefront of putting victims at the front of this legislation and the work of the Metropolitan Police".

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