By Jack Kelly
In 2015, Prime Minister Theresa May claimed that Britain would lead the world against the “barbaric evil” of modern slavery. Yet, its disturbing rise has prompted a swift response from the UK government in the form of additional legislation – the Modern Slavery Bill 2017.
As such, in preparation of the Second Global Modern Slavery & Supply Chain Summit, we believed that this would be an appropriate time to speculate on the impact of the new Bill and consider whether it would make a difference.
The new Bill is an amendment of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 as a means to increase transparency in supply chains. The legislation seeks a reduction in the numbers of human trafficking by insisting that businesses provide detailed reports about their internal practices. Recommended content for the reports will now become mandatory. Any non-compliance requires businesses to explain its reasons, with sanctions in place if they do not show any desire to make changes. In addition, public authorities will be expected to produce transparency statements alongside commercial organisations.
So, does the new Bill signal an end to modern slavery?
Unfortunately not. Although legislation is in place, there remains a lingering problem with the enforcement of the issue. According to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue services (HMICFR), the Metropolitan police are failing to follow the modern slavery initiative. The methods employed to identify victims were redundant. In fact, there were many cases closed after the police did not make any inquiries into reported concerns. Officers did not even speak to victims. They believed that human trafficking is not a problem in their area. Equally, that the public are not sympathetic or interested in victims.
Surely, this is not excusable. The police have a moral and legal obligation to protect victims of this abhorrent crime. They are an institution that should deliver a fair, consistent enforcement of the law regardless of personal values or beliefs.
Otherwise, how are the police any different from the slavers?
In this regard, ignorance is not bliss. It is complacency.
Without serious intervention, this leaves many victims unprotected and at the mercy of their exploiters. Furthermore, the new Bill has not adjusted the sanctions for non-compliance. Formal enforcement resides with an injunction from the Secretary of State, Amber Rudd, but this continues to be an unlikely course of action. This brings into question,
Realistically, will there be any repercussions for the police?
Notably, the police investigate, interrogate and combat crimes such as modern slavery. If yes, then it would be difficult to execute harsh sanctions since they are highly responsible for the safety of the public. If no, then a friction could develop. Other institutions could argue that the police need to be punished accordingly to demonstrate a universal fairness across the board.
A HMICFR report revealed the Metropolitan police’s minimal efforts in dealing with modern slavery. However, Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland OBE remains optimistic that this could incentivise a push to educate police officers on serious matters like this.
The new Bill has certainly laid down the groundwork for a successful assault on the ever-growing issue of modern slavery.
Now, we need action. For many, it cannot come soon enough.
Photo credit: Blacknut SMTN/ Flickr.