Update: Anti-Slavery International and the UK’s Modern Slavery Bill

3 November 2014

poster to campaign against slavery in the UK

The Modern Slavery Act is a reality. Here is everything you need to know about how it unfolded and what were the main issues with the bill.

The Modern Slavery Bill was introduced in the UK Parliament in June 2014. Anti-Slavery International has been advocating for the reform of laws on slavery to provide a clear and consistent tool to address the issue in the UK.

We welcomed the Modern Slavery Bill as an opportunity to introduce modern, robust legislation that could help address slavery its underlying causes. However, the Bill lacked the necessary provisions to successfully prevent and prosecute modern slavery offences, protect the rights of victims of these crimes and ensure transparency in supply chains of businesses.

As the Bill was passing through the Parliament, we were working both bi-laterally as Anti-Slavery International and as part of the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), the Transparency in Supply Chains coalition and other coalitions, to propose amendments to the Bill. We have also worked together with the ATMG and a group of lawyers to draft an alternative bill to assist the government in developing the draft Bill further.

From our work we knew that in order for the Bill to become an effective contribution to the elimination of slavery in the UK, it needed strengthening in a number of key areas, including:

Victim Protection:

Anti-Slavery International has long endeavored to highlight the lack of convictions of traffickers in the UK. The Modern Slavery Bill is a tool of criminal justice and focuses heavily on the prosecution of offenders. However, the evidence from the ground shows that things need to get better for victims in order for things to get worse for traffickers.

While some provision for victim protection has been added to the Bill since it was first introduced, the proposed measures remain inadequate to guarantee victims the support and protection they are entitled to and neither do they ensure that those who fail to identify and assist victims will be held to account.

For more information see the Victim Protection briefing paper produced by the ATMG

Offences:

Bringing all modern slavery offences into a single law is a welcome step. However, some of the definitions used in the Bill need to be strengthened and brought in line with existing international law to ensure that cross-border trafficking cases can be easily prosecuted. For example, the current definition of human trafficking links it with movement, which is flawed: Trafficking is a process that does not require movement or travel.

The Bill also omits the liability for those who benefit from slavery. Hence, Anti-Slavery is supporting amendments to create liabilities for beneficiaries of slavery and to provide victims with civil remedies. The Bill amendments can be found here.

The Anti-Slavery Commissioner:

We have welcomed the introduction of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner in the Bill with a mandate to cover all forms of slavery. Anti-Slavery has been calling for this role to be created for a number of years. A Commissioner has the potential to spearhead the UK’s fight against modern slavery, however in order to achieve this, the Bill would need to be changed to give the Commissioner adequate powers and ability to act independent of the Government.

For more information see the Anti-Slavery Commissioner briefing paper produced by the ATMG.

Slavery in Supply chains of Goods and Services:

Modern slavery is often linked to business operations. Some companies will use forced labour as a business model that allows them to generate more profit. However, most commonly, modern slavery will be discovered within the supply chains of products and services. Supply chains tend to be long and commonly stretch across countries. In today’s global economy, every business is faced with a risk of being implicated in modern slavery, either through deliberate action or recklessness in supply chain.

Anti-Slavery has been working to ensure that Modern Slavery Bill contains provisions that address business behaviour. We would like to see a provision that requires companies of a certain size to report on how they are identifying and eradicating slavery from their supply chains. Together with a coalition of organisation and business we have been working to get an amendment that would establish the obligation on companies to be transparent in their anti-slavery efforts. We are pleased that the Government changed its initial position of resistance and introduced a Transparency in Supply Chains amendment to the Bill. This is a great step forward. We will continue to work to ensure this provision in the Bill is improved to make the reporting requirement effective. For further information see the briefing paper published by the Transparency in Supplies Coalition with which Anti-Slavery International has been lobbying for these amendments.

We have also been calling for changes that would bring to justice companies that act carelessly or knowingly profit from slavery. The provisions include holding companies liable for profiting from modern slavery, strengthening provisions relating to slavery on high seas, ensuring the powers of maritime law enforcement in all UK coastal and territorial waters as we know that there are issues with slavery on foreign boats licensed by the UK and also introducing a ban on importing any goods produced by slave labour.

The Gangmaster’s Licensing Authority (GLA):

The GLA is a government body that licenses and inspects labour providers (Gangmasters) in several industries, namely agriculture and fisheries. It has achieved improved standards of labour providers and has uncovered labour exploitation and forced labour in number of cases. However, in industries outside of its remit, exploitative Gangmasters continue to operate with impunity and there is evidence that rogue gangmasters deliberately move into unregulated sectors. To improve labour standards across the board and prevent exploitation, the GLA’s powers need to be extended to all labour provision in vulnerable sectors of the economy. We have been working to ensure that amendments are introduced in the Bill to plug this gap.

Overseas Domestic Workers:

Migrant domestic workers are one of those most at risk from forced labour and trafficking. In 2012, UK immigration law was changed resulting in migrant domestic workers, entering the UK on the Overseas Domestic Worker visa, becoming tied to their employers. While all migrant domestic workers remain vulnerable to abuse, those who are tied to their employers experience  worse conditions and less freedom.

Anti-Slavery International, alongside Kalayaan, has been lobbying in support of an amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill to reinstate  the protections of the original visa. This provision gives migrant domestic workers the ability to change employer and thereby leave abusive situations, and allows them to renew their work visa annually.

A major victory was won this week (25th February 2015) when the House of Lords voted in favour of this amendment to restore domestic worker rights! If retained by the House of Commons this would mark an end of the tied visa system. However, the Government has put forward its own proposal that would require migrant domestic workers to report their ill-treatment under the NRM first before being able to lawfully switch from an abusive employer. This will likely increase domestic workers’ vulnerability as for example workers families’ are at risk of reprisals if workers are seen to engage with the authorities. This would also arguably constitute unlawful discriminatory practice. Read Anti-Slavery’s briefing on the domestic workers tied visas ahead of the Commons debate.

For further information on the problems with the tied visa read Kalayaan’s briefing for Committee Debate on Amendment 94 in the House of Lords on 8 December.

UPDATE: Unfortunately the House of Commons voted against the Lords’ amendment to restore domestic workers’ right to change employers.

Provisions on child trafficking and exploitation:

We have been working together with a number of child rights organisations to improve the protection of child victims in the Bill. We have been focusing on including:

  • A separate Child Exploitation offence
  • Independent Child Trafficking Advocates with full legal powers to act in the child’s best interests and instruct lawyers on their behalf
  • Including a statutory defence to protect children who have committed an offence as a direct consequence of their trafficking or exploitation.

The House of Lords voted at Report Stage to strengthen the legal powers of child trafficking advocates, a significant step forward in the campaign to provide every child is effectively safeguarded.

For more information, see the various recommendations on Child Offences put forward by ATMG and the Children’s Lobby

The Parliamentary Process:

The House of Lords Committee considered and amended the Bill in December 2014. The Bill then went to a Report Stage in the House of Lords on 23 and 25 February (The transcript of the debate is available here), where further amendments were debated and voted on. Anti-Slavery with its coalition partners have made proposals for and assisted in developing several of these amendments, including those on advocates for trafficked children, victim protection, protection for overseas domestic workers and transparency in supply chains. The Bill came back to the House of Commons on 17 March, where all the amendement suggested by the Lords were accepted, except the crucial amendment on protections for domestic workers.

The Bill received Royal Assent and became a Modern Slavery Act on 26 March 2015.