Weaknesses in anti-slavery efforts highlighted in report

21 October 2016

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Commemoration: the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, looks on as Princess Eugenie lays a wreath at the grave of William Wilberforce during the service at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday of last week

Commemoration: the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, looks on as Princess Eugenie lays a wreath at the grave of William Wilberforce during...

EFFORTS to eradicate modern slavery are being hampered by problems that include “passivity” from the police, the independent anti-slavery commissioner has said.

The commissioner, Kevin Hyland, has published his first annual report on the situation since he was appointed last year, after the passage into law of the Modern Slavery Act.

In it, he welcomes progress on a number of fronts, but warns that more needs to be done. The report was published on Wednesday of last week — the same day as a service at Westminster Abbey was held to commemorate William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade.

Speaking at the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that people in Britain were too “blind” and “insensitive” to realise that victims of human trafficking and slavery were in their midst, not just hundreds of miles away overseas.

“We drive past slaves at car washes, we encounter slaves in the street doing routine jobs, for which they receive virtually nothing,” Archbishop Welby said. “We buy goods where the supply chain includes slavery. It is around us. It is in our hands.

“William Wilberforce convinced his generation that slavery was a sin; a sin that was a curse of the country in which he lived. [Yet] this is the reality for thousands — possible tens of thousands — in our own country, not because we think it is acceptable but because our sin lies in blindness and ignorance.”

Mr Hyland’s report concluded that “chronic weaknesses”, “substandard” data-collection, and “passivity” on behalf of the police meant that thousands of cases of possible slavery were being missed.

In 2015-16, only 884 crimes of modern slavery were formally recorded by the police, even though there were more than 3000 referrals to the national slavery-monitoring system in the same period.

The National Crime Agency, which collects the referrals from non-police bodies such as local authorities or border forces, have been too “passive”, and have not ensured that every referral is passed on to the local police force to be recorded and investigated as a crime, the report says.

Furthermore, the 3266 victims of slavery who were supported in 2015 — despite being a 40-per-cent increase on 2014 — are only the “tip of the iceberg”, Mr Hyland’s report said.

Too many were continuing to fall through the gaps in the national system, it continued. “At present, many victims who leave safe houses . . . do not receive further support, and disappear off the radar. The Commissioner is clear that this is an unacceptable situation.”

Mr Hyland is also “concerned”, the report said, that 17 of the 30 trafficking victims identified by the UK Border Force were refused entry to Britain and sent back to their country of origin, “potentially back into the hands of traffickers”.

None the less, there are also some good signs, the report said. New awareness-raising training is being made available to those working for local councils, the emergency services, and in particular the NHS, where one in eight staff reported that they had come across a patient they believed was a victim of slavery. New funding has been agreed by the Prime Minister to tackle slavery in Edo state, Nigeria (£5 million), and to ensure that the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean does not lead to a surge in human trafficking (£4 million).

On Tuesday of last week the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, also announced £8.5 million of new funding to help police forces do more to tackle modern slavery. Fifty new officers to investigate slavery, led by Devon and Cornwall Police, will be deployed across the UK to improve the police’s response to what Mrs Rudd described as a “barbaric crime”.

Mr Hyland also successfully led international efforts to ensure that the UN included the eradication of modern slavery and human trafficking among its new Sustainable Development Goals (News, 2 October 2015).

Priorities for the future include putting pressure on businesses to measure their success by how ethical their workers and supply chains are, and encouraging more international collaboration.

Separate research by the Salvation Army has discovered that 71 per cent of adults are not confident they could spot the signs that someone is a victim of modern slavery, and 58 per cent admit not knowing what to do if they did spot a victim.

A further 80 per cent are not aware that businesses are now required by the UK’s anti-slavery laws to tell people what they are doing to ensure their supply lines don’t use slave labour.

Princess Eugenie is supporting the Salvation Army’s campaign — #askthequestion— to get the public to quiz companies on what they are doing to ensure their products are slave-free.

She said: “This year I went to visit a safehouse and I was completely astonished by the work that the Salvation Army do and by the survivors who have come out of modern slavery. I think it’s everyone’s duty to #askthequestion and to support this campaign in any way possible.”

The Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, who chairs the Commissioner’s advisory panel, wrote in the report: “The international perspective is especially vital because modern slavery knows no boundaries and often profits from the overly narrow focus of those seeking to challenge this wicked crime.”

“Until all in society acknowledge the damage this crime causes and the role it plays in our everyday life, the suffering of men, women and children across the United Kingdom and beyond will continue,” Mr Hyland concluded in his foreword to the report.

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