The Modern Slavery Bill started its second reading in the House of Lords earlier this week, following its passage through the House of Commons.
Modern slavery takes a number of forms, including sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude, involving victims who come from all walks of life and who are often unwilling to come forward to law enforcement or public protection agencies for fear of further reprisals from their traffickers.
There are already a number of international instruments on human trafficking, the main one being the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children as well as a European Directive, which the UK has opted into. There are also a number of ILO conventions relating to slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. However, following a report into modern slavery which clarified the changes needed to tackle modern-day slavery more effectively in the UK, a draft Modern Slavery Bill was published at the end of 2013. The Bill brings together, in a single statute, all legislative measures to counter human trafficking.
It is divided into seven parts. Part 1 consolidates the current offences of slavery and human trafficking whilst increasing the maximum penalty for these offences. Part 2 provides for two new civil preventative orders, the Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order and the Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order. Part 3 provides for new maritime enforcement powers in relation to ships.
Part 4 establishes the office of Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and sets out the functions of the Commissioner. Part 5 introduces a number of measures focussed on supporting and protecting victims, including a statutory defence for slavery or trafficking victims and special measures for witnesses in criminal proceedings. Part 6 requires certain businesses to disclose what activity they are undertaking to eliminate slavery and trafficking from their supply chain and their own business, while part 7 deals with a range of general matters.
The majority of the Bill’s provisions extend to England and Wales only, but certain provisions also extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Human Trafficking offence provides for extra territorial jurisdiction over UK nationals who commit trafficking offences overseas.
Iain Birrell at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “The despicable tenacity with which humankind exploits its weakest members is a trait which Thompsons fights every day. The Modern Slavery Bill addresses the most monstrous example of that behaviour which, for most of us, is seen as something that creeps through the shadows of someone else’s society.
“We are wrong though, and this week the Walk Free Foundation estimates that slavery affects over half a million people in Europe, and 35 million worldwide. We therefore welcome this Bill albeit noting the bitter irony that it follows four years of the most sustained and often brutal ideological attacks on our own society’s most vulnerable members by this coalition government.”
To monitor the progress of the bill, go to: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2014-15/modernslavery.html
Two members of the Trade Union Group recently published their findings from a trip about workers in the tobacco fields of North Carolina, many of whom are trafficked from Mexico. To read their report, go to:
To read the Walk Free Foundation report, visit: http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/