UK Government backs new slavery law

28 October 2009

The British Government has backed new laws to crackdown on modern day slavery.

Ministers have conceded that existing legislation fails to protect people from modern day slavery and have agreed to criminalise forced labour and servitude in the Coroners and Justice Bill.

Baroness Young, who tabled an amendment proposed by Anti-Slavery International and Liberty, described to Peers the reality of modern day slavery in the UK.

She said: “Victims may be subjected to unacceptable living conditions and forced to work for 12 or more hours a day. They are also frequently subjected to vicious psychological abuse and to threats which keep them effectively imprisoned.”

Lord Tunnicliffe told peers that the Government had been given examples of forced labour and servitude from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the UK Human Trafficking Centre.

He said: “There can be no doubt about the appalling treatment and working conditions found in these cases, some of which were harrowing. They describe victims who have been trafficked for exploitation, threatened, assaulted and blackmailed. They also describe unsafe and overcrowded working conditions, illegal wage deductions and forged contracts.”

Anti-Slavery International and Liberty had met with Ministers to explain that a change in the law was needed to protect over 1,000 people estimated to be in forced labour in the UK.

Lord Tunnicliffe said while the Government believed existing legislation went someway to deal with the issue of forced labour he conceded “prosecutions might be easier if an offence existed that clearly encompassed all of the elements that comprise servitude or forced labour”.

The House of Lords will vote on a revised amendment at the third reading of the bill next week.

Joanna Ewart-James, Supply Chain Co-ordinator at Anti-Slavery International, said: “It is shocking that these criminal offences do not already exist so we are very pleased that the Government has agreed to introduce an amendment to this Bill.

“Once in force, we expect that police and prosecutors will be better able to press charges against perpetrators of this serious crime, providing better protection to the most vulnerable workers in our economy.”

Isabella Sankey, Policy Director of Liberty, said: “We are incredibly grateful to crossbenchers, Liberal Democrats and Conservative peers, and now the Government for listening to the strength of our argument.

“There is understandable public scepticism about politics these days, but this victory shows the potential for protecting the most vulnerable in our society when politicians on all sides come together.”