The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) has released new statistics which illustrates the high number of victims of slavery that are bound up in those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Overall, 2022 statistics are high – beginning from the increase in small boat arrivals picked up by first responders at the UK border, to the Duty to Notify process seeing the highest number of reports ever to the Home Office (4,580) – to the highest number of potential victims of modern slavery recorded through the NRM ever (16,938), a 33% increase since the prior year. As such the highest number of slavery cases were recorded in 2022. 88% of reasonable grounds cases (17,000) and 89% of conclusive grounds cases (6,000) that were considered by the competent authorities were deemed positive. This shows that the majority of cases claimed to be slavery, are indeed slavery, and the UK Modern Slavery Act plays a critical role in international human rights justice for those seeking asylum.
Imbedded with political issues surrounding high numbers of immigrants entering the UK, fears arise around the exploitation of this system that is designed to protect victims.
According to NRM statistics, for the first year Albanian nationals were the highest number of referrals per nationality, exceeding UK nationals at 25%, mostly being child potential victims of slavery. Albanian nationals accounted for 27% of potential victims of modern slavery, mostly being adults, and many arriving via small boats to UK shores. This has given rise to backlash at the statistics with rhetoric suggesting Albanian refugees are ‘claiming to be slavery victims’ using the UK Modern Slavery Act. However, migrants also from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria arriving in small boats are usually unable to access visas, passports or conventional safe routes of immigration and are therefore highly vulnerable to the exploitation of human traffickers.
Burmese workers producing F&F Jeans and other clothing for Thai company VKG were subject to conditions of forced labour when supplying the Thai branch of Tesco between 2017-2020. This included illegal pay rates such as £3 per day, employees subject to 99 hour working weeks, ill working conditions such as outdated machinery causing injuries to the employees, and the employer tampering with wage records through control of employee bank cards. In 2020, 136 VKG workers were dismissed when asking to be paid the minimum wage, leading to the inquiry into modern slavery within VKG.
During investigations, police and Thai officials are accused of contrived interviews. It took only one day to interview 114 ex-VKG workers, where victims’ statements were allegedly deleted, they were rushed and ‘cut off’ from finishing sentences. NGOs witnessing the interviews observed that due process was not followed and interviews were ineffective, suggesting they were conducted for appearance rather than to obtain true conclusions of the safety of the VKG employees working conditions.
This landmark lawsuit against Tesco for ‘negligence and unjust enrichment’ is brought forward by Oliver Holland, partner at Leigh Day, representing 130 workers formerly employed by VKG, as well as a 7 year old daughter of an employee who was raped on factory grounds. Tesco does not have day to day dealings with the factory, yet the corporation has encouraged its suppliers to reimburse their employers, and commented on previous compensation paid to VKG workers by the Thai labour court. However, within the remit of the UK, Tesco will face repercussions against the UK Modern Slavery Act for forced labour found within their supply chain. It is critical for corporations to be held accountable for modern slavery within their global supply chains in order to address the profits gained from inequality and human rights abuses.
Philippa Southwell, HTMSE’s founder, appeared on GB News for a live interview during which she discussed modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK’s textiles and garment industry. She focused on the exploitation in fashion as well as the legislation covering business modern slavery compliance.
Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, Section 54, companies with a total annual turnover of over 36 million, are required to publish a modern slavery statement setting out the steps, if any, they have undertaken in the past year to prevent the risks modern slavery and human trafficking in their business and supply chains. The only formal requirements for the modern slavery compliance statement are that it is signed by a senior member of the organisation, such as a director, and that it is published in a prominent place on the organisation’s website.
During her interview, Philippa discussed the lack of implementation and enforcement of our legislation against non-compliant companies.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has was published this week on the 22nd May 2019. The review has identified eighty recommendations for improvements to the operation of the act and wider policies to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking in the United Kingdom. The review makes significant recommendations for how legislation should be amended to increase compliance by businesses and improve supply chain transparency, including:
Recommendation 25: Failure to fulfil modern slavery statement reporting requirements or to act when instances of slavery are found should be an offence under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.
Recommendation 22: The legislation should be amended to require companies to consider the entirety of their supply chains [in respect of modern slavery]. If a company has not done so, it should be required to explain why it has not and what steps it is going to take in the future.
Recommendation 18: In section 54(5) ‘may’ should be changed to ‘must’ or ‘shall’, with the effect that the six areas set out as areas that an organisation’s statement may cover will become mandatory. If a company determines that one of the headings is not applicable to their business, it should be required to explain why.
Recommendation 32: Section 54 should be extended to the public sector. Government departments should publish a [modern slavery] statement at the end of the financial year, approved by the Department’s board and signed by the Permanent Secretary as Accounting Officer. Local government, agencies and other public authorities should publish a statement if their annual budget exceeds £36 million.
The recommendations would significantly increase the responsibility on businesses to address anti-slavery in their supply chains, and afford the government greater power to punish companies that do not comply.