The UK Modern Slavery Act received Royal Assent today.
Under the Act, human trafficking offences are in one place, maximum jail sentences for traffickers increase from 14 years to life and the authorities will be able to seize traffickers’ assets and force them to pay compensation to their victims.
Hope for Justice CEO Ben Cooley said, “We still have work to do, putting these powers to good use for victims, but today we are one step closer to the end of modern slavery. It’s a good day for abolitionists around the world”.
The final Act does not include a proposed amendment ending the controversial ‘tied visa’ scheme. Under the scheme migrant domestic workers are unable to change employers without losing their immigration status. This has led to significant concerns that domestic workers may be unable to escape abusive employers.
Working directly with victims, Hope for Justice were able to provide briefings for lawmakers, as the Bill took shape, on the most common and pressing issues for individuals trapped in slavery in our country.
Hope for Justice’s UK Legal Director, Phillipa Roberts, commented that, “Legislation has an important part to play in addressing any issue in society and this Act is a welcome improvement but the actions of agencies, organisations and individuals are equally important.
Hope for Justice will continue training frontline professionals to identify trafficking and refer victims for help. Our specialist investigators will continue seeking out the most hidden victims”.
In the last week, Hope for Justice has undertaken the rescue of seven victims of human trafficking across the UK. A number of those cases were joint operations with local police.
Hope for Justice UK Director of Programmes, Allan Doherty commented, “We are delighted that the Modern Slavery Act has been granted Royal Assent and we look forward to working closely with the newly appointed Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to ensure the Act is fully implemented and further developed. We have met with him already on a number of occasions and are looking forward to hosting him at our Head Office later this summer.
We feel that whilst this Act is a momentous development much more needs to be and can be done especially around longer-term support for victims. We will be sharing our vision with the Commissioner and offering him our full support in putting victims at the centre of his strategy and seeing perpetrators identified and punished for their crimes”.
Hope for Justice has assisted over 200 victims of slavery since it began deploying teams of investigators to local offices known as Regional Investigative Hubs two years ago.
The original Act of Parliament to abolish the British slave trade passed on 25 March 1807. Championed by William Wilberforce, it was the culmination of one of the most successful public campaigns in history. The Modern Slavery Bill passed the House of Lords yesterday – 25 March 2015 – on the anniversary of Wilberforce’s Act, before receiving Royal Assent today; a fitting reminder that the work of abolition is ongoing.