New ATMG report examines UK slavery laws

Press Release: New report from the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group analyses anti-slavery legislation across the UK and points out the shortcomings of the Modern Slavery Act

ATMG report image

18 October 2016

  • Significant differences in a number of key areas of anti-slavery legislation  across the three jurisdictions of the UK
  • Modern Slavery Act falls behind relevant legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, particularly on victim protection measures
  • No monitoring framework in place to oversee the implementation of all three Acts across the UK, including data collection and analysis

Modern slavery victims identified in England and Wales are at a big disadvantage compared to those in Scotland and Northern Ireland, according to the new report by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), led by Anti-Slavery International.

The report, entitled ‘Class Acts?’, examined three laws introduced in 2015 to tackle modern slavery: the Modern Slavery Act in  England and Wales, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act in Northern Ireland, and the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act in Scotland.

The research highlights significant differences in the three Acts, and points to victim protection as being the area of greatest concern.

Whilst the laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland both include the minimum international standards of support and assistance for victims and places a duty on the authorities to provide this support, the Modern Slavery Act does neither, instead leaving support entitlements to be set out in statutory guidance. This means that victims identified in England and Wales now have fewer support entitlements guaranteed in law than those in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Although the National Referral Mechanism (NRM, the UK-wide victim identification and protection system) is currently under review, there is a concern that no consideration has been given to victim protection and support. The NRM pilots currently running in England only test a new model of decision-making. There has been no consideration of how this new NRM model will operate in other UK jurisdictions.

Protection of children is also of great concern for the ATMG. Although Child Guardianship schemes have been included in all Acts, there are key differences when it comes to who is entitled to have a guardian, how the guardian is appointed, and when and for how long a guardian will be able to represent the child.

It is worrying that to date none of the proposed models for child guardianship have started; the full implementation of the scheme in England and Wales is scheduled for as late as mid-2019.

Although all three laws provide protection for victims prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers, only Scotland provides exemplary practice, with all cases involving potential victims of trafficking now having to be referred to the National Lead Prosecutor for Human Trafficking and Exploitation.

The legal situation of the Overseas Domestic Workers (ODWs) remains dire across the UK. The Government refuses to grant domestic works the universal right to change employer and renew their visa annually, which was the recommendation of its own review, and this gives employers all the power over the situation of the worker which has been evidenced to lead to exploitation.

Vicky Brotherton, the lead author of the report, said:

“As good as it was to see three anti-slavery Acts passed in one year, a lot remains to be done to ensure that this crimes is tackled in an organised and comprehensive manner.

“Not all the victims across the UK can be confident of receiving the same standard of support, and the crime can treated in different ways depending where it happens to occur. This needs addressing.

“When it comes to protecting victims of modern slavery in England and Wales, we are in the same place as three years ago.

“All administrations should publish a proposed timetable and monitoring framework for the implementation of the respective Acts, and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner should be given a crucial role in bringing together all the knowledge and data collected on modern slavery.”

Klara Skrivankova, UK and Europe Programme Manager at Anti-Slavery International, said:

“It is very worrying then that the minimum standards of victim protection enshrined in international law for over a decade are still not guaranteed in law England and Wales. What support a victim receives will depend on where in the UK they happen to be identified.  This leaves some victims at a big disadvantage.”

“Anti-Slavery International has for years stressed that victim protection is the key to successful anti-slavery response, not only because protecting the rights of  victims of a serious crime is an obligation of the state, but also because when properly supported, victims are more likely to feel able to help authorities bring the perpetrators to justice.

Other areas of concern pointed out by the report:

  • Weakness of the Modern Slavery Act in using the word ‘travel’ in definition of human trafficking, potentially making convictions more difficult where the movement of a victim is difficult to prove.
  • Recording of criminal offences and perpetrators different in all three jurisdictions, making it impossible to draw any coherent picture. No recording of children’s cases.
  • Potential misuse of the duty to notify the relevant authorities about potential victims in case of England and Wales – the ATMG has concerns regarding the storage and use of sensitive information collected through the forms, and concerns about the inclusion of children under the Duty to Notify.
  • The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has a broad mandate which covers encouraging good practice in victim protection, the prevention and prosecution of modern slavery offences, and the development of national and international partnerships. However, the ATMG believes the role could be strengthened if the Commissioner was further mandated to collate and analyse modern slavery data. This would allow the Commissioner to have a comprehensive picture of modern slavery and identify gaps in the UK’s response.
  • The UK Government, in collaboration with the devolved administrations and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, must implement a UK-wide data strategy, with a particular focus on the collection of perpetrator data.
  • The UK Parliament should undertake an assessment of the impact of the Acts within five years of their commencement, ensuring that the voices and experiences of victims and stakeholders across all regions are included in it.

Download the report in PDF: Class Acts? Examining modern slavery legislation across the UK.

Note to editors:

The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) was established in May 2009 and works to promote a victim-centred, human rights based approach to protect the well-being and best interests of trafficked persons.

The ATMG comprises: AFRUCA, Amnesty International UK, Anti-Slavery International, Bawso, ECPAT UK, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), Helen Bamber Foundation, Kalayaan, Law Centre (NI), The POPPY Project, The TARA Service (Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance, of Community Safety Glasgow), UNICEF UK. Find out more about the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group at www.antislavery.org/atmg.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Anti-Slavery International’s Communications Manager Jakub Sobik on 0207 501 8934, mobile 07789 936 383 or email j.sobik@antislavery.org.