Operation Fort is the UK’s largest anti-slavery prosecution, with eight members of a Polish criminal gang convicted of slavery, trafficking and money laundering offences on 5th July 2019.
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner report highlights “Operation Fort is important not only because of the number of victims, but also the length of time the criminal gang was able to operate without disruption.” The gang’s activities were traced back to 2012 and continued four years after the Modern Slavery Act was passed in 2015.
The case involved 92 victims aged between 17- 60 who spoke minimal or no English, who were forced to work on farms, in factories, waste recycling plants, warehouses and live in dire conditions in the Birmingham area, although West Midlands PD estimated 400 Polish nationals may have been subject to this exploitation. Operation Fort was a complex case of modern slavery involving many criminal elements, including labour exploitation, human trafficking, fraud, deception, theft and physical abuse.
A key lesson from this case lends to employers and businesses being educated and proactive in spotting the signs of slavery and exploitation, and having effective measures in place to report concerns. There must be particular safeguards in place for temporary workers. Lessons to banks suggest they must proactively look for the signs of slavery within their branches, and also by analysing financial data. Furthermore, recruitment agencies can learn lessons from this case. They have an important role in identifying victims during interview or inductions, carrying out effective checks to detect anomalies, and an ongoing responsibility to check on worker welfare.
“Operation Fort sends a clear warning that no supply chain is safe from worker exploitation. Modern slavery and human trafficking gangs are highly adaptable; organisations must continually evolve to keep pace with entrepreneurial criminality.”
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner provides a maturity framework for business’ compliance to the Modern Slavery Act:
BARELY ACHIEVING COMPLIANCE
Superficial modern slavery statement – policy but no action
Little or no mapping of supply chains
Minimal awareness of modern slavery amongst staff
Sole reliance on audits
No protocol for dealing with labour abuse
MEETING BASIC EXPECTATIONS
Evidence of activity or improvement in modern slavery statement
Identifying areas of high-risk in the business and supply chains
Educating suppliers on policy and setting expectations
Regular staff training and awareness-raising exercises
Basic protocols for dealing with labour exploitation cases
Installing whistleblowing hotlines
EVOLVING GOOD PRACTICE
External challenge or working groups informing strategy
Going beyond auditing – deep dives and unannounced visits
Cascading ethical standards throughout supply chains
In-depth training for staff in key roles, such as procurement
Commitment to worker engagement
Implementing the Employer Pays principle
LEADING ON HUMAN RIGHTS INNOVATION
Board leading on human rights strategy
Using data analytics to identify risk
Local, national, international intelligence gathering
Supporting suppliers to develop ethical competencies
Pioneering new ways of worker engagement, using technology
Factoring in the true cost of labour
Find the full Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner report here.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased the risks and vulnerability for many in society and will continue to do so for many years after the initial pandemic itself has ended. In addition to those trapped in violent, abusive, and exploitative situations at home, for many around the world the economic impacts of coronavirus have raised their vulnerability to potentially becoming trapped in bonded labour, forced labour or other forms of modern slavery. The raised demand for certain products, alongside an increased demand for work, has also exposed may factory workers potentially exploitative working conditions, and the impact on global programmes focusing on human rights have been delayed; potentially resulting in millions of additional cases in the coming years. It is vital to ensure that in tackling the global public health crisis much of the positive development in addressing human rights around the world is not undone, and Governments and private sector actors continue to address and improve the situations of society’s most vulnerable individuals.
The Home Office has this week published statutory guidance under section 49(1) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The guidance covers indicators of trafficking, support, and the decision making process. The statutory guidance will replace a number of existing documents, namely:
Guidance: Duty to Notify the Home Office of potential victim of modern slavery
Victims of modern slavery: frontline staff guidance
Victims of modern slavery: competent authority guidance
Multi-Agency Assurance Panels Guidance
The guidance also provides clear and practical explanations on the fundamental definitions of human trafficking and modern slavery under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, providing examples of actions, means employed by offenders, and different forms of exploitation victims may be subjected to, whilst also including a section dispelling commonly held myths about human trafficking and modern slavery; for example, for human trafficking to occur an international border must be crossed. The guidance also provides important information on the distinction between human trafficking and human smuggling (also termed ‘people smuggling), listing a range of factors that might be used to identify the distinctions. More complex cases, surrounding issues such as forced marriages, potential ‘sham’ marriages, and illegal adoption are discussed in the guidance, which indicates how these issues may relate to human trafficking and modern slavery, but also how they may operate as distinct and independent offences.
Door to door scams and rogue traders have been points of focus recently for their links with modern slavery and human trafficking. However, the links between door to door scams and modern slavery and human trafficking are not new issues. In July 2015 the Polaris Project published a report entitled ‘knocking at your door: Labor Trafficking on Sales Crews‘, exploring the major issues of modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour in the travelling sales industry. The Polaris Project’s report focused specifically on the US context, but awareness of door to door scams and rogue trader’s links with modern slavery and human trafficking has risen in the United Kingdom too.
The noted increase in victims of modern slavery being used to carry out door to door sales and scams has led to authorities calling for greater vigilance from consumers, both to be careful of new incarnations of old scams, but also of who is the individual apparently carrying them out.
The content of modern slavery statements: This section addressed inconsistencies in reporting approaches taken by different companies and the possibility of making certain criteria mandatory. This section also sought to address the fact that global movements in modern slavery legislation may make it desirable to ‘harmonise our approach’. The questions posed focused on reporting practices and the implications of making certain areas mandatory.
Transparency, Compliance, and enforcement: The second section of the consultation sought to propose the introduction of a central government registry, one designed to improve transparency. It also addressed reporting deadlines, proposing a single annual reporting deadline so as to reduce the confusion of multiple separate deadlines throughout the year. It finally sought to gain views into how section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act might be enforced. Questions were posed on each of these areas.
Public sector supply chains: The final area addressed in the consultation examined public sector supply chains. In essence, the consultation proposed that reporting requirements would be extended to public sector organisations with a turnover of more than £36 million per year. Reporting requirements would be for each individual government body to maintain responsibility, whether given individually or as part of a group statement. The questions posed by this section of the consultation focused on the apparent benefits and challenges of imposing modern slavery reporting requirements on large public sector bodies.
Today the 18th October 2019 marks Anti-Slavery Day, upon which members of HTMSE, along with international organisations, governments, local authorities, companies, charities and individuals around the world raise awareness for those affected by human trafficking and modern slavery. Since 2015, HTMSE has been working to connect both victims to professional support and professionals to professionals aiming to aid the development of knowledge in the human trafficking and modern slavery sector.
To combat these complex and global issues, the need for international and interdisciplinary cooperation is critical. HTMSE is an open, free, online, central contact directory and eLearning platform enabling collaboration and cooperation between stakeholders in the human trafficking and modern slavery sector. This year, our database has increased exponentially, furthering access to specialist knowledge, cases and research from around the world. We have been listed on the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner’s website as an official resource available beyond public and private sectors, with contact details and eLearning material open freely to society via the internet. We have been recognised by Tech4Good as a finalist for the Community Impact Award 2019, demonstrating how technology and connectivity is instrumental in driving forward a social justice agenda today.
HTMSE receives a high number of referrals each week from both professionals and victims requesting expert assistance. HTMSE has connected hundreds of victims of trafficking and human rights violations to the support services they require, such as victim shelters, legal advice, and mental health support both within the UK and internationally. Furthermore, HTMSE has connected NGOs, specialists organisations and professionals working in this sector, facilitated the exchange of information, legal representation and expert reports, research and litigation that has led to justice for victims of human trafficking.
HTMSE and it’s members are having a tangible impact on the human trafficking and modern slavery sector. Today we recognise this progress, whist preparing for another year of impact and development that is needed to address the fact that 21 million people worldwide are still currently victims of modern slavery. For those who work in this sector, and are not yet listed on the HTMSE directory, we encourage you to sign up a profile here: https://humantraffickingexperts.com/main/signup
Earlier this year our founder and director Philippa Southwell was called to give oral evidence as a legal expert in the Home Affairs Select Committee Modern Slavery Inquiry. As well as giving oral evidence our director Philippa also gave written evidence. Issues that were raised during the inquiry concern the Modern Slavery Act 2015, in particular the section 45 modern slavery defence and excluded schedule 4 offences, and section 54 corporate modern slavery compliance. Also of note were concerns regarding the exploitation of British national minors involved in child criminal exploitation in the forms of forced drug possession, robbery, burglaries, and weapons running. Philippa gave legal analysis on all of these topics. Further areas of focus by the inquiry were:
The detention of Modern Slavery victims in immigration removal centres, and the adequacy of policy in relation to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking being held in immigration detention centres.
The role of the independent anti-slavery commissioner and the relationship between the different law enforcement agencies, e.g. the police, NCA, GLAA, etc, with the national referral mechanism was a major focus of the evidence given by law enforcement professionals and the former Independent UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
and, Victim, and victim support services’, perspectives on policy and support available to victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.
The evidence for the inquiry was presented as a combination of oral and written evidence and is drawn from a wide variety of professionals and organisations representing a broad spectrum of sectors. At present those who have given evidence include legal practitioners from a wide range of specialisms; the NGO sector; law enforcement professionals and organisations, including the Home Office, NCA, Local Authorities and multiple police forces; Academic institutions and the research sector; various corporate bodies; and multiple individual experts and specialist organisations.
The Home Affairs Select Committee Modern Slavery Inquiry is ongoing, with oral evidence continuing to be heard. The final findings have yet to be announced. Both the written and oral evidence that have been heard as part of the inquiry, including those submitted by Philippa Southwell, can be found here.
It is increasingly recognised that tackling human trafficking and modern slavery, crimes that are often of a hidden nature, requires multi-agency collaboration and professional experts from across all sectors. The Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Expert Directory was established in the UK to bring together professionals and specialists who work in the counter-trafficking and anti-slavery sectors from around the world. Victims of human trafficking can be transported within their own country or across borders many thousands of miles from home. The directory addressed a critical need for a centralised global database of experts and professionals to better enable those working in the field to approach an incredibly complex, often international, problem. The HTMSE directory lists a large cross section of professionals and organisations, all of whom have different specialisms and varying qualifications, including NGOs, charities, businesses, lawyers and law firms, medical practitioners and researchers. The directory is designed as a free resource for all, whether signing up to the directory as an expert or searching the directory in search of an expert.
If you are a you are a professional, NGO, charity, business, lawyer, medical practitioner, or other expert or specialist organisation and wish to sign up to the Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Expert Directory and professional network please follow the link here.
In July 2019 the UK Government released it’s response to the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which was published earlier in the year. The Review appointed experts to advise on the following four sections of the act, making a total of 80 recommendations:
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (s 40-44)
Transparency in Supply Chains (s 54)
Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (s 48)
Legal Application (specifically s 3 on the meaning of exploitation, s 8-10
on Slavery and Trafficking Reparation Orders and s 45 on the statutory defence).
The response to the Independent Review sets out several actions the UK Government will be taking to address some of the recommendations, including the launching of a public consultation about transparency in supply chains and the announcement of £10 million for the development of a new modern slavery policy and evidence centre. The policy and evidence research centre will involve academics, charities and firms. However, whilst the new centre has been described as having great potential to improve knowledge on human trafficking and modern slavery there are some concerns that the new initiative is being developed while policy is failing in other areas.
The full UK Government response can be found here.