The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) began its study into modern slavery and human trafficking more than two years ago. We saw quickly that slavery was no problem of the past for the UK. We found a vicious underworld where people are bought, sold and forced into lives of utter degradation. Out of sight but suffering in our towns and cities.
The report that emerged, It Happens Here, found the UK to be an incubator of child and sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude. We also found a growing number of UK-born children who were victims of slavery. Bleak as our report was in places, we told the truth about what we discovered. But we also offered hope and a way forward. The report presented clear recommendations for any politician bold enough to listen – including that a new Modern Slavery Bill should be passed by Parliament and what it should contain.
It is excellent news, therefore, that the Home Secretary Theresa May announced on Sunday that the Government will enshrine in law a raft of reforms to transform our nation’s approach to this appalling crime. The Government deserves enormous credit for these plans.
The Home Secretary’s proposed Modern Slavery Bill, stacked with important measures suggested by our report, looks set to combine various laws and make sure that action becomes a priority for the National Crime Agency. The creation of a modern slavery commissioner, which was a key CSJ recommendation, will be enormously important in holding law enforcement and government agencies to account.
Crucially, under the plans a person convicted of trafficking will be banned from being a gangmaster after their release from prison. The Home Secretary has also said she will seek a commitment from companies not to use slave labour, building in our calls for transparency in supply chains.
It is important to be clear just how significant this announcement is. If implemented well, the reforms will transform Britain’s domestic response to modern slavery. And our Parliament will also send a loud message around the world that the UK is ready to lead this fight again.
For victims, often the most vulnerable and voiceless in society, this means new hope. Not only will they know that Britain is disgusted by the abhorrent crime that traps them, but they will also see a country prepared to force it from the shadows. We must do all we can to shape and support this Bill, and in doing so, to rescue those who most need our help.