Home Secretary Theresa May announced plans for a new bill to crack down on human trafficking in the UK last week. Are we seeing the start of a second-wave abolitionist movement in Parliament?
This announcement came the same weekend as the annual UN International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and of Its Abolition. However slavery has not been completely abolished and the trade of people certainly has not ended. It is the world’s fasted growing crime and even as I write this blog it continues. There are an estimated 27 million people will have been bought and sold against their will and transported into slavery. In fact 9.1 million men, women and children are trafficked across borders and within their own country at any given moment in time.
This alarming facts have motivated Theresa May to propose plans for a ‘Modern Slavery’ bill. She stated in her Sunday Times article that it was “scarcely believable” that human trafficking continued to happen in the UK and that her first concern is to free the victims, regardless of nationality.
The bill will suggest tightening laws on human trafficking to consolidate and toughen existing anti-trafficking legislation. The law will hopefully be introduced during this session of parliament. Ending human trafficking will become one of the highest priorities for the new National Crime Agency that will take over from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency in October. A ‘modern slavery commissioner’ will also be appointed to oversee the enforcement of the proposed changes to the criminal justice system.
Plans include tougher punishments under the new proposed law and lengthier prison terms, with organizing slavery becoming an ‘aggravated offence’, leading to harsher sentences for those with previous convictions.
If convicted of using abduction, threats of extortion to control slaves then traffickers could receive a sentence of up to 14 years, as well as being banned from returning to areas or businesses they previously worked in. Those convicted would also be banned from owning a company, working with children or young women.
A particularly interesting point May also made was that companies who use slave labour could be “named and shamed.” If a company’s profits are directly affected by publicly highlighting the existence of trafficking in their supply chain it could significantly change business culture in the UK and make transparency and ethical business a higher priority.
This is where we feel the proposals could go even further. In California an Act was passed last year that requires companies that meet certain threshold requirements to reveal their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their supply chains. It requires companies to include in their disclosures information such as the extent to which they conduct independent audits of suppliers and if they provides training for employees on the subject of human trafficking. This information has to be made publicly available and therefore enables consumers and businesses to compare what actions they are doing and identify the shortfall.
We want to see an Act such as this passed in the UK. It would mean businesses are held accountable to their Corporate Social Responsibility policies and encourage them to take action to ensure that they are committed to eradicating human trafficking in their supply chain. It would also mean consumers have access to the information they need to determine how to use their purchasing power to support companies that are actively working to end human trafficking.
Evidently time will tell to see if these measures are passed and if they do deter traffickers however it is a brilliant step in the right direction. It shows that human trafficking is on the radar of the UK government and that they are willing to focus on preventing and combating the horrific trade in persons that persists over two hundred years after it was abolished.
The bill has been hailed as the “first serious attempt” to end human trafficking since William Wilberforce. Britain certainly has a history of being a “world leader” in the fight against slavery and this proposed bill could begin a change within the government to make it a consistent priority in all future administrations.
Work to end human trafficking also needs to happen on the ground; through preventative measures such as education of what trafficking is and training to help frontline staff spot the signs. It can also begin with a simple step of examining what products you buy and whether trafficking has been part of its supply chain. This bill will certainly be significant and we welcome Theresa May’s proposals. However there is still more work to be done to end human trafficking once and for all. We can all be Wilberforce’s successors.