Theresa May’s draft Modern Slavery Bill will be the first of its kind in Europe according to the government. The Home Secretary has proposed a bill that for once has strong support across the political parties and is accompanied by a review commissioned by the Home Office and carried out by Labour MP Frank Field.
Once again the British parliament is leading the way internationally and should be applauded for this achievement. It is a significant and very welcome step forward in the fight against trafficking and slavery, which according to Mr Field’s estimates has 10,000 victims in this country.
Christian anti-slavery organisations play a significant role in the active daily battle to combat this modern evil, both here in the UK and abroad. A coalition comprising 15 of these leading anti-slavery organisations, has welcomed the Modern Slavery Bill but is also calling for it to be strengthened to be effective and contribute to a reduction in trafficking and slavery.
The coalition has published a briefing paper today calling on churches to take up the work of 18thcentury abolitionists: “The transatlantic slave trade was banned in 1807 and slavery was abolished across the British Empire in 1834, yet it is still with us today. Children are sold into slavery to pay family debts; people pay for passage, only to be trafficked over borders and find forced labour conditions rather than freedom … this must end.”
Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: “For evangelicals this is unfinished business; we’ve been fighting slavery for hundreds of years, and we are still at it today. This bill needs to live up to its promise. It has the potential to tackle modern slavery but the government needs listen to the campaign groups in order to achieve that aim. Together as organisations motivated by our Christian faith we call on the government to act and strengthen the bill so it can bring freedom to many caught in slavery.”
Churches and Christians were active in campaigning against the transatlantic slave trade, and they are again today. This coalition is calling on churches to meet with their parliamentary representatives and urge them to take a strong and uncompromising three-prong stance against all shades and forms of modern-day slavery when the bill comes up for debate at Westminster. Frank Field MP’s evidence review also proposed similar measures to improve the draft bill which will be considered as it begins its parliamentary passage.
Specifically, the coalition wants the government to:
- Increase the focus on victims to ensure that they are properly identified, that they are able to receive immediate support and assistance, that the circumstances of their victimisation are fully investigated and that they are not prosecuted for crimes they may have committed while under duress and the control of others.
- Appoint a strong and independent anti-slavery commissioner who must be accountable to parliament and be able to speak across all parties, give a voice to the victims, provide strategic leadership to combat modern-day slavery and have the power to launch inquiries, publish findings and hold the culpable to account. The draft bill’s proposals in this area are welcome but need greater clarity over the post’s independence from government.
- Bring greater transparency in the supply chain legislation, by requiring businesses, each year, to make public information on measures taken to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains and business practices. The draft bill only commits to a voluntary system which is not good enough.
Nola Leach, chief executive of CARE, commented: “This is a key moment in Britain’s fight against human trafficking and slavery. The government must seize this opportunity to set a new standard in the care and protection of survivors. A bill without victims at its heart will be only a half measure. Together, we must act to support the vulnerable and expose those who exploit them.”
Terry Tennens, executive director of International Justice Mission UK, said: “From extensive international experience, IJM has learned that holding institutions designed for security and protection accountable, is a highly effective way of protecting the vulnerable from violence and exploitation. An independent anti-slavery commissioner is of vital importance in winning the battle in eradicating modern slavery in the UK”.
Kate Garbers, co-founder of Unseen, commented: “Tackling the issue of modern slavery is a complex task and we need to be better equipped in this fight. This cannot be solved by one organisation, but we all have a part to play. This is a great example of different agencies working together to support a very important bill.”
Major Anne Read, anti-trafficking response co-ordinator for The Salvation Army, said: “The Salvation Army is keen to join with all those who are calling on government to make every possible effort to eradicate the evil trade in human beings and bring an end to the abuse and exploitation of the children, women and men who are the victims of modern-day slavery.”
Ben Cooley, chief executive officer of Hope for Justice, commented: “The Modern Slavery Bill is a strong signal to traffickers that we won’t tolerate their terrible trade in human lives. Today, we must also be the voice of victims so we’re calling on the Church to help make sure that victim protection is at the heart the final bill.”
The coalition comprises:
1. A21 Campaign
2. A Way Out
10. No More Traffik
13. Stop the Traffik