Hope for Justice is deeply concerned by the Home Office’s announcement that it has scrapped its year-long hiring process for an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC). The position – a vital source of accountability for the government’s action to identify & support survivors of modern slavery – has now been unfilled for 8 months.
Tim Nelson, CEO of Hope for Justice, said:
Introduced as part of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, the position of the IASC was designed to ‘encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences, as well as in the identification of victims’ according to the commissioner’s website.
By law, the Home Secretary is required to appoint someone to the role. However, no fresh advert has appeared online for the role. Were the government to begin its hiring process from scratch, there would likely not be an appointed commissioner until the summer at the earliest. This would mean well over a year with no independent insight into the urgent and ever-expanding issue of modern slavery in the UK, and the official response to it.
No statement has been published outlining the reasons for this decision or the delay, which comes at a time when the government has announced its intention to reconsider its legislation regarding modern slavery. Indeed, the Home Secretary announced to Parliament that the Government would raise the threshold that a person must meet to be considered as a victim of modern slavery.
According to the IASC website, in the absence of a commissioner, “IASC staff attending meetings or engaging with stakeholders will have no remit to provide views or take on or contribute to new work.” Without this independent, expert input, the government runs the risk of alienating survivors of modern slavery from the vital support they require and deserve. It runs the risk of jeopardising the life chances for already vulnerable people.
At a time where both the cost of labour and the related risk of exploitation and modern slavery are at their highest, this is no time to have the position vacant.
Over the last full year, just under 16,000 referrals were made to the National Referral Mechanism, the government’s framework for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery. This continues a trend of rising referrals in previous years.
Globally, many Governments and supra-national bodies are increasing their focus on modern slavery via new legislation, including Norway, the EU and Germany, where new supply chain legislation came into force on 1st January 2023, requiring greater corporate vigilance on how they source their workers.
The UK must also lead by example in utilising its existing anti-slavery framework. The Government has an opportunity to mark itself as a leader in the field. In fulfilling its responsibility and adopting a dignifying and vigilant response to an abhorrent, unthinkable phenomenon, it can help carve out a precedent which safeguards and supports survivors of modern slavery.
This cannot wait: we urge the government to fill the position of Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner today.