Report: Brexit a threat to Britain’s fight to tackle modern slavery

Brexit poses ‘existential threat’ to UK’s co-operation with European countries essential to tackle modern slavery in Britain, says Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group.

10 July 2017

Brexit poses an ‘existential threat’ to UK’s co-operation with European countries that is essential to tackle modern slavery, said the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), a coalition of thirteen UK anti-trafficking organisations that monitors the UK’s progress in the fight against modern slavery.

In the new paper entitled “Brexit and the UK’s fight against modern slavery“, the ATMG points out that the European Union has played a big role in shaping UK’s domestic efforts to tackle modern slavery, and warned that cutting ties with the EU risks all the good work done by the British government up to date.

“Despite some flaws in UK domestic anti-trafficking policy, the numbers of identified victims is on the up and increasing number of traffickers are sent to jail. But by Brexiting we risk jeopardising the progress made in tackling modern slavery and protecting its victims”, said Dr Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International that leads the coalition.

In combatting what is often a transnational crime, the UK has relied heavily on involvement in European mechanisms, such as Europol and Eurojust, which allow closer collaboration between the police forces of Member States, to dismantle trafficking networks and bring traffickers to justice.

“The UK has strongly benefitted in its efforts against trafficking from measures that these EU mechanisms facilitate, such as intelligence sharing with the source countries, criminal databases, so-called Joint Investigation Teams to carry out trans-national investigations, and European Arrest Warrants. Britain could lose access to all of them after Brexit,” McQuade stated

This is in significant part because of the UK’s stated intention of withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which governs all the EU security bodies.

“Theresa May made fighting modern slavery her flagship project, but she risks undermining it if she goes ahead with her plans to quit the CJEU because of the threat this poses to continued security and criminal justice cooperation”, said McQuade. “Given the international nature of modern slavery this would be a disaster for the UK’s anti-trafficking work, and ultimately would increase the risk of vulnerable people falling victims of vicious criminals.”

The paper also identifies other crucial elements stemming from the EU laws contributing to Britain’s anti-slavery efforts that are under threat post-Brexit, such as victims’ and workers’ rights, pan-European co-ordination of anti-trafficking efforts of both the states and civil society actors, information-sharing platforms, and funding for anti-slavery organisations working on European-wide projects.

Although it’s likely that in the short term key legislation that protects victims’ and workers’ rights will be retained post-Brexit, there is a significant risk that this legislation will be repealed or amended in the longer-term without reference to parliament.

“The UK has been following the EU’s lead in terms of legal protections for victims of trafficking and employment rights preventing exploitation. If we leave the EU there is a real risk that these rights could eroded”, said Vicky Brotherton, ATMG Co-ordinator and author of the report.

“For example, as the Modern Slavery Act doesn’t guarantee in law the support for the victims such as a recovery period and access to compensation, victims have had to instead rely on EU law to claim their rights. If we leave the EU, victims of modern slavery in England and Wales might lose these vital legal protections”, she added.

Girls affected by slavery in school in Niger

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The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group recommends the following:

  • The UK Government must pursue access to European criminal justice and security measures to the greatest extent possible, and continue to prioritise law enforcement co-operation as part of the Brexit negotiations.
  • To the extent that it allows such continued cooperation, the UK must accept some measure of the jurisdiction of the CJEU.
    Prior to the UK exiting the EU, primary legislation must be introduced which transposes the rights of victims to support and assistance, as detailed in the EU Trafficking Directive, into domestic law in England and Wales.
  • The UK Government should introduce primary legislation which transposes EU labour law that protects worker’s rights.
  • The UK Government must undertake an impact assessment for any new proposed law and policy related to immigration to assess its likely impact on efforts to tackle modern slavery, including whether migrants will be made more vulnerable to exploitation because of these changes, and/or less willing/able to seek protection and justice should they suffer abuse.

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:

  • Amnesty International UK
  • Anti-Slavery International
  • Ashiana Sheffield
  • Bawso
  • Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX)
  • Helen Bamber Foundation
  • Kalayaan
  • Law Centre (NI)
  • The Snowdrop Project
  • The TARA service

Read the full report: Brexit and the UK’s fight against modern slavery

Brexit and the UK's fight against modern slavery - ATMG

Find out more about the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group.