The following is a guest blog by solicitor Ben Ticehurst of E.M.M. Solicitors
The Modern Slavery Act 2015
The Modern Slavery Bill received Royal Assent on the 26th March 2015. Following the announcement of Royal Assent, Unicef Director David Bull said:
The passing of the Modern Slavery Bill into law is an historic moment in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking. Unicef UK is proud that the UK has committed to stamping out these horrific crimes and, in particular, to protecting vulnerable children.
Why the need for new legislation?
The Global Slavery Index 2014 reported that over 35 million people are trapped in slavery across the world today. Modern slavery takes multiple forms including forced labour and human trafficking, and is found across the economic sphere in domestic servitude, the sex trade, on farms, building sites and in factories. Many are working in terrible conditions for extremely long hours, for little or no pay, and are vulnerable to verbal and physical abuse.
The National Crime Agency suggests that the number of victims of trafficking in the UK rose by 22 per cent from 2012 to 2013 and these numbers are continually on the rise globally as well.
In the UK, around 60% of children rescued from trafficking have gone missing from social services. Those working as foreign domestic workers on a tied visa (about 15,000 each year), meaning that they are tied to one employer for the duration of their stay, are unable to leave their houses unaccompanied or find alternative jobs to escape abusive employers without becoming criminalised.
Until now, there were three pieces of legislation on slavery and trafficking that are scattered, impractical and therefore difficult to use. As a result, there were only 8 convictions of human trafficking in the UK in 2011. There have been calls for the law was to be on the side of victims of slavery and trafficking and so the new Modern Slavery Bill, has been hugely welcomed as it is pivotal to ensuring victims of abuse are found, cared for and receive justice for crimes committed against them.
A Home Office spokesperson recently said the bill was
“an historic opportunity to get legislation on the statute books that will , for the very first time, address slavery and trafficking in the 21st Century”
Summary of the Act
The Modern Slavery Act brings together current offences of trafficking and slavery, introduces tougher sentences (up to a maximum of life imprisonment) for traffickers, and creates an independent anti-slavery commissioner, likely to be a former police officer. It contains provisions for seizing traffickers’ assets and allows for confiscation proceedings (section 7) under the Proceeds of Crime act 2002 (POCA 2002). It also allows for the channelling of traffickers money towards victims, by way of compensation payments (section 9).
It is hoped the Act will provide greater protection for victims and improve the prospects for prosecuting perpetrators
The Act includes provision to defend those that have been forced to commit crimes as victims of slavery or exploitation (section 45). This includes a defence for child victims against prosecution for crimes committed directly as a consequence of their trafficking.
The provisions to protect children are continued in that Section 48 creates ‘Child Trafficking Advocates’ who will support and represent any child that has been the victim of human trafficking. The Act also sets out a ‘presumption about age’ (section 51) which means that where is it unclear as to the age of the victim and they could be under 18 years of age then they will be treated as under 18 until it is know otherwise.
The Act will also make a development in relation to corporate responsibility and accountability in an attempt to improve transparency in supply chains (section 54). This will require companies to make a statement detailing the steps they have taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place within the company or supply chains, or that no such actions have been taken. This step follows the USA, Brazil and Australia who have already made efforts to address modern slavery in supply chains.
There have ben some criticisms of the Bill in that it concentrates on enforcement and prosecution of traffickers as opposed to focusing more on victim protection.
Former conservative MP Anthony Steen has said:
“the prime minister said he wants to drive slavery out of Britain; I am convinced he is committed to doing something about it, but you are not going to catch traffickers unless you have evidence, and you are not going to have any evidence unless you support the victims. The reason why we have so few convictions in Britain is that police scare the living daylights out of victims.”
Barrister Parosha Chandran has commented that the section of the bill that deals with transparency in supply chains does not extend to wholly owned subsidiaries of UK companies abroad.
She has stated that
“…the modern slavery bill represents a huge step forward in the development of corporate accountability. Yet we will never really begin to tackle modern slavery unless we ensure that the supply chains of all our companies, whether doing business in the UK or overseas, are not tainted by trafficking, exploitation or abuse.
Andrew Wallis, chief executive of Unseen, a charity that works with the survivors of trafficking and modern slavery, was more inclined to be positive.
Whilst no legislation is ever perfect it must now be matched by a concerted and collaborative effort to put the provisions of this law into full effect”.
“Many have contributed to the process of drafting this legislation and we have arrived at an
Act that the UK can and should be proud of. There is and always will be more to be done
but it was crucial that this legislation reached the statute books before this parliament ended
so that we have a good foundation upon which to build.”