Modern slavery and legal reform in the UK: what we’re calling for

Image credit: Mind and I, via Shutterstock.

Changes in the law can transform lives. We know this because we recently celebrated the end of systematic State-imposed forced labour in Uzbekistan after a 15-year-long campaign.

This is why, in the UK, we continue to call for provisions that aim to both prevent modern slavery and provide access to remedy. New stronger laws in the UK can tackle modern slavery around the world and link closely with our campaigns to end state-imposed forced labour in Turkmenistan and the Uyghur Region as we call for import controls and due diligence laws to stop companies sourcing products from these regions.

We have got a chance right now to make even more positive change to help people in modern slavery. In order for the UK to have truly meaningful laws relating to modern slavery, we need a range of tools to make sure that workers and victims are supported, and that businesses play their part.

This Anti-Slavery Day, on 18 October, as we look ahead to new parliamentary initiatives, we’ve outlined what we want to see in the new Modern Slavery Bill and beyond.

UK reform: Modern Slavery Bill

The UK government has a series of proposed Bills that would touch on the issue of modern slavery, including a proposed Modern Slavery Bill.

In the proposed Modern Slavery Bill, on supply chains, we’re calling for amendments which would strengthen the existing modern slavery reporting requirements in the existing Transparency in Supply Chains clause of the UK Modern Slavery Act, and for the introduction of import controls that would prevent the import of products made with forced labour.

Introducing import controls in the UK would be a hugely important step, but it is only one tool in a full toolbox that includes heightened victim support and a separate Business, Human Rights and Environment Act.

Import controls:

Import controls are an enforcement tool which allow governments to put pressure on companies, for example by pressuring a supplier to end forced labour and provide remedy to workers.

We’ve joined with over 20 civil society and trade union organisations in the UK, including Amnesty International, Justice and Care, Human Rights Watch, the TUC, and Unseen, to outline the principles we need to see in a UK legal framework on import controls. These principles also detail how the UK’s existing approach on Transparency in Supply Chains should be improved.

See the full principles here >>

In order to be effective, import controls should be carefully designed and focus on achieving positive changes for workers. In short, they must include remedy to workers.

We also know that import controls are particularly effective in cases of state-imposed forced labour, such as Uyghur forced labour. Given that the US and EU have recently announced new laws to prevent the import of goods made with forced labour, it’s more important than ever that the UK keep pace, so it does not become a “dumping ground” for goods made with forced labour.

You can support our call for import controls, by signing our petition with the Coalition to Stop Slavery today >> 

Victim support:

While we have an important opportunity to improve how the UK Modern Slavery Act addresses forced labour in supply chains, by pushing for import controls, we must also make sure that the new Bill extends, rather than rolls back, victim support.

Support for victims should be a crucial consideration in any improvements to UK modern slavery legislation. Earlier this year, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group – hosted at Anti-Slavery International – released a report showing that the UK’s current measures to support survivors are falling far short. All survivors said they had, at times, been destitute. Since then, we have seen a dangerous rhetoric spreading that modern slavery is an immigration issue. This is simply not good enough, and we are calling on the government to improve measures for victim support in upcoming legislation.

In order to improve identification and support for of victims of modern slavery, the Government must:

  • Confirm in law the UK’s stated commitment to the European Convention on Trafficking in Human Beings to give legal certainty to victims of modern slavery
  • Improve and extend frameworks for providing support for survivors, which in their current form leave users at risk of or experiencing destitution. New and improved frameworks must be designed with full consultation with survivors
  • Reform UK immigration policies, including rolling back where immigration law has put constraint on identification and support for survivors, making sure there are safe routes for asylum seekers, and making sure economic migrants are not caught in tied visa schemes

See our Victim Support Principles >> 

UK Business, Human Rights and Environment Act

In the UK, we’ve been working since 2019 to call for mandatory due diligence, calling for a UK Business Human Rights and Environment Act.

Currently our modern slavery legislation does not support people harmed in business supply chains around the world to access justice in UK courts.

We need a new overarching law to:

  • Compel businesses to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence to identify, address, prevent, mitigate and remedy harms in their operations and value chains
  • Hold companies and other organisations accountable for a failure to prevent abuses through liability provisions
  • Help to level the playing field between businesses and provide clarity and certainty on legal obligations
  • Enable victims of abuses, including modern slavery, to access justice through the courts of the home country of the lead company in a supply chain. For example, if a German company is a key client of a factory in Malaysia, then workers in that factory should be able to take the Germany company to court in Germany for the harm they have suffered

This law would complement and go beyond import controls.

Learn more about the proposed Business, Human Rights and Environment Act >>

For further information, please visit:

  • Want more information on how all these measures would work together?