THE UK has become the first country to publish a modern-slavery statement. It sets out how the Government is tackling the crime in its supply chains, in which it spends about £50 billion a year.
The statement, published at the end of last month, coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Under the Act, thousands of commercial businesses are required to publish annual modern-slavery statements; the Government hopes that its move will encourage similar action in the public sector. Individual ministerial departments will publish their own statements in the coming year.
The statement describes the Government’s efforts towards eradicating modern slavery from its supply chains, including direct engagement with about 400 suppliers on implementing effective modern-slavery due diligence and delivering training to more than 250 government commercial staff.
The Government says that it also wishes to develop a registry for modern slavery statements.
The Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew said: “We are committed to driving out modern slavery in all forms; so it is crucial that we make sure it’s nowhere to be seen in the supply chains which help provide our vital public services. I am also delighted that across Government, we will be publishing our own modern-slavery statements, so [that] people can see the work we are doing to fight this terrible practice.”
The Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins, said: “I am proud that we are taking this unprecedented step to show how we are tackling slavery during procurement. We are committed to targeting perpetrators and safeguarding victims of this horrific crime.”
Measures in the Act include the introduction of the statutory defence for victims who were compelled to commit criminal offences; the creation of Independent Child Trafficking Guardians in England and Wales to advocate on behalf of trafficked children; and the creation of the post of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (News, 12 December 2018) to encourage good practice in tackling modern slavery and the identification of victims.
The Salvation Army’s director of work against trafficking and modern slavery, Kathy Betteridge, said: “We are pleased that, five years after the Modern Slavery Act was brought in, the UK Government is leading by example in publishing a Modern Slavery Statement to outline the measures it is taking to eliminate slavery from its supply chain. Taking preventative steps . . . is a promising step forward.”
One of Britain’s first modern-slavery campaigners, Debbie Huxton, who works across the Lichfield diocese, welcomed the Government’s statement last month. She said that it highlighted the need to be aware that modern slavery was a reality in the UK.
“It is affecting people in all of our parishes, and there is a lot that we as the Church can do to recognise and respond to it. Jesus came so that people could have life — and have it to the full, and this is cruelly denied to those trapped in slavery. Many dioceses are partnering with the Clewer Initiative to say ‘we see you’ to those directly affected by this evil.
“In the Lichfield diocese, this has led us to working closely with the police, local authorities, and a wide range of other agencies and charities. We partner together to raise awareness, to safeguard victims, and to increase the flow of intelligence, so that law enforcement can disrupt the serious and organised crime behind modern slavery.”