Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Publishes the Annual Modern Slavery Report for 2020-2021

Dame Sara Thornton, UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has published the 2020-2021 Annual Report. The report sets out the work of the Commissioner using the strategic plan presented before parliament in October 2019. However, the report also reflects on the challenges, including the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and UK exit from the EU.

The report highlights that progress has been made, as well as the drawbacks, such as successful prosecution of perpetrators remaining infrequent. The Commissioner emphasises the need for research which could contribute more to the practical understanding of what works in terms of victims support and prosecution of offenders.

Particularly, the report underscores the need for protection of victims who commit criminal offences as a direct consequence of their trafficking. According to the report, child exploitation in county lines remains prevalent, though the possibility of criminal exploitation is not being considered at the start of an investigation risking victims being wrongly prosecuted. However, non-prosecution alone does not protect children or vulnerable adults; effective safeguarding is needed instead, the report indicates.

For the full findings of the report, please see here.

Supreme Court hands down judgment in A & B v CICA, for which Philippa Southwell provided expert evidence

HTMSE Director, Philippa Southwell, provided evidence  in the case of A & B v CICA, for which the Supreme Court has now handed down the judgment. Philippa’s evidence was based on her legal expertise in modern slavery, human trafficking and forced criminality.

The Court was asked to decide whether A and B were discriminated against contrary to Article 14 and 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, by being barred from compensation under the 2012 iteration of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) based on having unspent convictions.

The Court rules that an automatic bar on compensation was lawful, where there was no nexus between the unspent convictions and trafficking. This still potentially allows for arguments for compensation on the grounds of nexus between trafficking the crime committed, if the victim has been unable to benefit from non-punishment provisions.

You can find the full judgment on the Supreme Court website here.

VCL and AN v UK: ECtHR refuses referral to Grand Chamber

European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has refused UK Government’s request that the case of V.C.L. and A.N. v. United Kingdom (nos. 77587/12 and 74603/12) be referred to the Grand Chamber. The judgment, handed down on 16th February 2021, is now final.

This was landmark case in which the Chamber of the ECtHR unanimously found breaches of Articles 4 (prohibition of forced labour) and 6  § 1 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights

Philippa Southwell, HTMSE director, represented VCL in both domestic proceedings and in his application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  Also instructed on behalf of VCL were Henry Blaxland QC, Emma Fitzsimons and Stephen Clark of Garden Court Chambers alongside Michelle Brewer, a former tenant who left Chambers to become a First-Tier Tribunal judge in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber.

For the confirmation of the rejection for referral to the Grand Chamber please see here.

For the full judgment please see here.

G7 Told to Prioritise Tackling Forced Labour in Global Supply Chains

As the G7 meeting gets underway, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton and the CEO of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, Alex Their, appeal to world leaders to prioritise a coordinated approach on tackling the global issue of forced labour in supply chains.

Writing in an article in the Red Box section of The Times, they recommend specific measures and commitments to solve modern day slavery, emphasising that it requires and investment of capital and political will. They appeal to the G7 leaders to condemn forced labour in goods and services in their supply chains and commit to enforcing this.

It is proposed that G7 agree on specific and measurable commitments, such as eradication of forced labour in the G7 supply chains by 2025, and worldwide by 2030. Then, they should agree on steps to harmonise their laws and standards, followed by increase in investment in the countries trying to do the right thing. Lastly, the article calls for a ban to all state-controlled forced labour.

To read the full article by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and CEO of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, please see here.

Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility

World Day Against Child Labour – 12 June 2021

12th June was the official World Day Against Child Labour. Children around the world are routinely engaged in paid and unpaid forms of work that are not harmful to them. However, they are classified as child labourers when they are either too young to work, or are involved in hazardous activities that may compromise their physical, mental, social or educational development.

The World Day Against Child Labour was first launched in 2002 by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in order to bring awareness to the global issue of child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. This year’s World Day was the first since the universal ratification of the ILO’s Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. It 2021 is also the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.

As part of the observances, ILO and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have released global estimated and trends on child labour.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, the report reflects on how it threatens to reverse years of progress in tackling the problem of child labour and assesses how the pace of progress towards ending child labour is likely to be affected by the continuing pandemic and the economic crisis that has accompanied it.

For more on the World Day Against Child Labour, please see here, whilst you can find the ILO and UNICEF report here.

Judgement: European Court of Human Rights failure to adequately protect potential victims of child trafficking in landmark case of VCL and AN v UK

Philippa Southwell, founder of HTMSE and leading modern slavery lawyer represented one of the victims, VCL, in the landmark ECHR case, in relation to victims of human trafficking. Philippa represented VCL in both domestic proceedings and in his application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  

The ECHR judgement finds failure to adequately protect potential victims of child trafficking. Judgement in the case of V.C.L. AND A.N. v. the United Kingdom (applications nos. 77587/12 and 74603/12) was handed down last week held, unanimously, that there had been:  

  • a violation of Article 4 (prohibition of forced labour) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and  
  • a violation of Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial).  

This case is likely to have wide reaching impact for victims of human trafficking.   

As part of VCL’s legal team also instructed were Henry Blaxland QCEmma Fitzsimons and Stephen Clark of Garden Court Chambers alongside Michelle Brewer, a former tenant who left Chambers to become a First-Tier Tribunal judge in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber.  Liberty (National Council for Civil Liberties), GRETA (Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings) responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and Anti-Slavery International intervened in this case.   

You can find the full judgement here.  

 

Photo Credit @ Wikimedia Commons

United States: National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

January 11th marked the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the US. Designated in 2007, it aims to raise awareness in the United States about human trafficking and modern slavery on national level.

The Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Expert Directory was established to bring together leading professionals and specialist organisations working in the counter human trafficking and modern slavery sector and provides access to specialists from around the globe, from all different professions and disciplines.

We encourage all professionals, NGOs, charities, businesses, lawyers, medical practitioners, or other experts or specialist organisations not listed in the HTMSE directory to sign up to create a profile here: https://humantraffickingexperts.com/main/signup

Anti-Slavery Day, 18th October 2020

October 18th was the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day, enacted back in 2010 as an Act of Parliament, with the intention to acknowledge and raise awareness for the estimated 40 million victims of modern slavery and human trafficking victims worldwide. Though the UK made strides in the global fight against modern slavery by enacting the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the first of its kind, in 2019, there were over ten thousand potential modern slavery victims identified in the UK alone. Each year Anti-Slavery Day reminds us of the individuals, communities, and even business exposed to the crime of Modern Slavery.

This year, over 50+ NGOs, academics and law firms have signed an open letter directed to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, calling for better protections and improved immigration policies for survivors of Modern Slavery. The letter highlights the plight of victims in immigration detention centres run in ‘prison-like’ conditions, and the practical disparity whereby more survivors than perpetrators are held ‘behind bars’.

Experts are calling on the UK Government to ‘turn the tide’: by ensuring victims of trafficking do not face punitive immigration control measures and Modern Slavery survivors receive needed support, particularly urging the Government to ensure victims receive support and immigration protection for at least 12 months – in line with the proposed Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. At present, traffickers threats of detention and deportation as a mechanism to control vulnerable whilst victims already struggle to secure protection under the current asylum process as it is ‘notorious for disbelief’.

Several signatories to the letter can be found in the HTMSE Directory which connects modern slavery and human trafficking victims with experts in modern slavery across all areas of practice. We encourage anyone, whether a professional, NGO, charity, business, lawyer, medical practitioner, or other expert or specialist organisation not listed in the HTMSE directory to sign up to create a profile here: https://humantraffickingexperts.com/main/signup

Super-Complaint Against Police Practice in Responding to Modern Slavery

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Amongst specialists, experts and organisations that work towards combatting modern slavery and human trafficking, there is acknowledgement that a weak link in the chain of response is with the initial interaction between victims of slavery and the police. This leads to downstream issues in an effective slavery response as cooperation with the victim is critical to prosecuting the offenders. Modern slavery operations reported by UK police forces raised by 250% in 2018, however only 7% of the recorded cases of modern slavery are reported to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). This produces subsequently low numbers of prosecutions for perpetrators of modern slavery within the UK. 

This issue has triggered UK charity Hestia to make the first police super-complaint on modern slavery response. This aims to highlight the harmful patterns in policing seen within the actions of non-specialist police as first responders, and create plans to overcome these barriers. Testimonials from victims of modern slavery, and experts including academic researchers, legal experts, voluntary sector organisations that work in the slavery response, including HTMSE founder and director Philippa Southwell gave evidence during 2018-2019 to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Modern Slavery towards the complaint. This highlights: 

Within the police forces, there is a lack of understanding of modern slavery, human trafficking and exploitation and the process in which they should respond. Officers often fail to recognise the signs of exploitation, and therefore fail to engage with the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and the duty to notify the Home Office upon identification of a potential victim. 

“There is a duty to notify under the Modern Slavery Act and the police are first responders, but I am not seeing the police making NRM referrals at that initial stage.” Evidence by Philippa Southwell.

Subsequently, as victims are treated as criminals upon their first interaction with the police, they are being alienated by the CJS. They are often treated as immigration offenders, or if they are engaged in crimes which they have been forced to commit by their exploiters they are treated as criminals. Treating victims with this contempt undermines the system by creating barriers for the victim to trust the police or the process in which they are rehabilitated. 

“We are still prosecuting individuals on a daily basis when there are key trafficking indicators. […] If we continue to prosecute victims of forced criminality, we will continue to have low prosecution rates for modern slavery-related cases. Almost all of my clients that have been prosecuted do not want to co-operate with a subsequent or parallel investigation into their exploitation because they feel they are not believed.”  Evidence by Philippa Southwell 

Some of the bad police practice highlighted by Hestia is when police forces fail to adequately investigate cases that come to their attention. If they do pursue investigation, issues in their response often include: 

  • victims feeling like they were not believed by the police officers;
  •  officers prioritising pursuing immigration offences over protecting victims;
  • female victims of sexual exploitation being interviewed by male officers using male interpreters; 
  • and victims not being informed by the police that they had decided to drop the investigation into their exploiters and traffickers.

This exacerbates the potential mistrust of authority caused by the trauma of their exploiters, or the fear that cooperating with police may cause retributions from their exploiters. Further trauma may be caused by their experience in the system, particularly in having to relay information about their exploitation.

“Victims are often criminalised and will be interviewed as suspects under caution. The current College of Policing guidance regarding interrogations of victims involved in forced criminality is inadequate. Police are regularly arresting victims and treating them as suspects first and foremost, even when there are significant trafficking indicators present when arrests are made. In our experience, victims who are treated as suspects and/or defendants at any stage are highly unlikely to cooperate with the authorities as a victim either at that time or at a later stage.” Evidence by Ben Douglas QC, Michelle Brewer (Barrister) and Philippa Southwell (Solicitor Advocate)

Although the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was a landmark forward in tackling modern slavery from a legislatorial standpoint, the message it sends must be carried through the to grass roots actions of policing. Good practice of police depends upon an understanding of the complex trauma that victims have experienced. Creating a safe space to conduct interviews of victims is critical, which allows for the flexibility of individual cases, engaging trusted support workers and the use of neutral and non-judgmental language. There has been advancement in police practice by the operation of specialist modern slavery units, as well as funding for the Modern Slavery Police and Transformation Unit in 2017.  Although some training of police forces exists, it is absent from the ongoing professional development of forces in the UK. Mandatory and effective modern slavery training must be integrated into police practice in order to adequately combat this complex crime. 

Millions more cases of FGM, Child Marriage and Gender Based Violence due to Coronavirus Pandemic

Child marriage constitutes forced marriage, FGM constitutes organ removal, and both acts are considered exploitation under the umbrella of Modern Slavery

By exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and subjecting more potential victims into vulnerable status, Coronavirus has uprooted much progress made towards protecting women’s rights around the world. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) deems 19 medical practices rooted in gender inequality a violation of human rights, including practices such as breast ironing and virginity testing. Their 2020 report Against My Will focuses on female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage and extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons as three widespread practices that constitute a “silent and endemic crisis“. These acts involve exploitation and fall under the umbrella modern slavery or violate fundamental human rights of female victims. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an exponential increase in gender based violence and the breakdown of critical sexual health services which deprive women of their reproductive health rights. 

FGM 

FGM involves surgical manipulation of a girls body in a way that diminishes their ability to achieve equal rights as men. It is a targeted act to subjugate and control a woman’s sexuality, thereby violating their right to equality and exposing them to extreme health risks. Despite most countries in the world deeming the practice illegal, FGM is rooted in the choice of a girls family or community, and goes ahead within this private sphere often without the knowledge of the state. This means it usually takes place in unsterile, black market conditions posing higher risk of infection and other complications such as haemorrhage, sepsis and even death. Mental and physiological repercussions include depression, irreversible loss of sexual pleasure and potentially sexual function. UN treaty bodies and international health organisations reject medicalisation of FGM to achieve safer sterile conditions because it would make the health professionals complicit in human rights violations. The UNFPA estimates the Coronavirus led disruption to preventative programs will lead to 2 million more cases of FGM between 2020 – 2030. 

Child Marriage 

Rates of child marriage have begun to rise as a result of the delay to preventative programs and the extreme economic hardship that vulnerable families are are experiencing as a result of the pandemic. UNFPA predicts an additional 13 million child marriages between 2020 – 2030 that could have been prevented by intervention services disrupted by the pandemic. Deepening poverty incentivises parents to marry off their daughters at a young age, to avoid the cost of their living. Although most countries follow the international Child Rights Convention and thereby establish a minimum age of consent between 16 and 21, the majority of countries allow parental consent to override age restrictions of their children to marry. Governments have a duty to end the harm to children, whereby effective laws need to be supported by economic and social restructuring to promote the equal rights and opportunities of vulnerable girls. 

Sex Selection & Reproductive Health Rights 

A preference for boy babies over girl babies leads to prenatal sex selection in favour of boys, or girl babies being neglected in infancy. 140 million females are ‘missing’ in the world population due to extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons, most significantly in China and India. Whilst in some cases this results in direct physical harm to baby girls, this mentality of systemic gender bias manifests in the ongoing issues of female subjugation later in their lives, such as through child marriage or domestic violence.  During the Coronavirus pandemic, there are restricted means to regulate such abuses. Due to overrun health systems, women’s reproductive health rights and sexual health are being neglected in both contexts of the developing world and developed world. The distribution of contraceptives have been severely disrupted due to supply chain issues. UNFPA assessed service disruptions in minimum lockdown cases (of three months) predicting 13 million women being unable to access contraception, leading to 325,000 unintended pregnancies. Malta, for example, has recorded 12 unintended pregnancies per day since lockdown. This in turn, will increase cases of neglect and murder of baby girls, due to an inability to access abortion practices during the pandemic. 

Coronavirus lockdown: Gender based violence 

Coronavirus lockdown posed an unprecedented necessity for families to stay indoors, that has led to increased gender based domestic violence and exploitation. Crisis centres, justice officials and domestic violence hotlines received increased reports during the lockdown period, indicating an increase in total acts of violence, whilst women and girls were forced to stay indoors with their abusers. Increased stresses caused by the pandemic has, and will continue to exacerbate tensions between families, causing violent outbreaks. Furthermore rates of abuse have increased due to disruptions to support programs such as open victim shelters, safe houses and intervention services. UNFPA predicts six months of lockdown would result in up to 31 million additional cases of gender based violence.

2030 Target 

Statistics provided by UNFPA along with partners Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University (USA) and Victoria University (Australia) estimates the vast human cost of the pandemic in relation to the rights and health of women and girls. The report includes targets for 2030 to gain back the global progress disrupted by Coronavirus, including: keeping girls in school for as long as possible, engaging men and boys in social change, and investment of $3.4 billion per year dedicated to ending FGM and child marriage. This will alleviate the suffering of approximately 84 million young females over the next decade. Along with the necessity for legal obligations around women’s rights and equality, UNFPA stresses the need for a social and cultural shift to prevent these harmful practices going ahead. Raising awareness within communities, empowering women through education and economic opportunities, and providing effective protective services to vulnerable women are essential to addressing this “silent and endemic crisis”, brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic.