A new Modern Slavery Bill has been announced in The Queen’s Speech 2022, delivered by Prince Charles in Parliament today. The Bill mostly applies to England and Wales, with some parts affecting the whole UK.
Hope for Justice welcomes the proposals for increased support and protection for victims, increased accountability for businesses and their supply chains, strengthened requirements around annual modern slavery statements, and greater recognition of the government’s responsibility to protect victims.
However we call on the government to comply with all international legal obligations for victims and survivors of human trafficking, not just some. We would also urge recognition that it is not just law enforcement agencies who need stronger tools to prevent modern slavery from occurring.
Support and protection for victims and survivors was narrowed by the Nationality and Borders Act, directly contradictory to the government’s stated goals with its new Modern Slavery Bill. ‘Justice’ needs to be holistic and reflect a survivor’s needs, and not just be centred around criminal justice.
Phillipa Roberts, Head of Policy and Research at Hope for Justice, said: “We would welcome any improvements to the level of support for survivors of modern slavery and their rights being enshrined in primary legislation. We would further urge compliance with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT), the relevant EU Directive, the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the provisions of ECAT are transposed into primary legislation.
“We look forward to seeing the detail of this proposed Modern Slavery Bill and while we welcome any strengthening of the requirements around compliance and reporting for businesses and larger organisations, we await the detail of this.
“We welcome improvements to the trafficking and slavery orders, which can provide a key tool to enhance efforts to disrupt those who exploit. As modern slavery victims are victims of serious crime, we welcome efforts to enshrine the Victim Code into primary legislation – we look forward to receiving details of this.
“We also welcome the announcement today of an Online Safety Bill – this could be a key tool in the fight against online exploitation, which has substantially increased during the pandemic.
“Despite today’s announcements, we remain deeply concerned about the likely impacts of the Nationality and Borders Act, which recently passed into law, on victims and survivors of modern slavery. This Act will reduce victims’ access to safeguarding and support upon identification, and in particular the clauses that may disqualify victims – including children – purely on the basis of offences they may have committed as a result of their trafficking experience.
“We are also concerned about the proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act is a major piece of legislation which protects victims of human trafficking and is routinely utilised in advocacy to protect their rights. The loss of the Human Rights Act is of major concern.”
Marc Stanton, Director of Slave-Free Alliance, a social enterprise owned by Hope for Justice which works directly with businesses to increase their resilience to modern slavery, said: “The announcement today is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough in terms of the strengthened requirements on businesses, mandatory reporting and the introduction of civil penalties. From the small amount of detail available so far, the UK is insisting only on a ‘reporting requirement’, whereas the EU is bringing in mandatory due diligence.
“Civil penalties will only be a useful deterrent if this is enforced and we know various government bodies are already very stretched. Business should strive to do more if they want to make a meaningful difference to improve conditions for workers.
“From once being a world leader in tackling modern slavery in supply chains through legislation, the UK now appears to be lagging behind other global legislation that is coming into force.”
The government notes that the number of live police operations has increased since the Modern Slavery Act became law, from 188 police operations in December 2016 to 4,322 in January 2022. In the year to September 2021, the police recorded 9,158 modern slavery offences, an increase of six per cent from the year to September 2020 when there were 8,622 offences recorded.