What became of the Modern Slavery Bill?

April 16th, 2015

What became of the Modern Slavery Bill?

Here at HART we have been following the developments in the Modern Slavery Bill with an eager eye. Despite the abolition of slavery in the 1800’s through various Acts, there are thousands of people trapped in slavery, servitude and exploitation in the UK and 35.8 million worldwide. The Modern Slavery Bill was hailed as the first of its kind, striving to establish ‘Britain as a World Leader in the Fight against Modern Slavery’ and eradicate slavery in the UK.

Developments in the Bill

The Modern Slavery Bill was brought to Parliament in June last year, to tackle trafficking and slavery in the UK and worldwide. It aimed to improve safeguards for victims and contribute to the eradication of slavery globally through increasing transparency in supply chains (read this blog post for more information on the background of the Bill, reasons behind it and analysis leading up to the report stage). The Bill was read and amended in the House of Commons, before going to the House of Lords for review, then returning to the House of Commons and finally being given the Royal Assent on the 26th March 2015.

Baroness Cox has been greatly involved in the process, tabling the first amendment on the Overseas Domestic Workers Visa at the Committee Stage to revert the Overseas Domestic Workers Visa at to the pre-2012 version and allow people on this visa to change employers. This would reduce the monopoly of control of employers over domestic workers on this visa. At this stage, Baroness Cox also tabled amendments to the international dimension which included the expression of a statement acknowledging that ‘modern slavery is a global issue requiring a global solution and which commit[s] the United Kingdom to assist with exposing and tackling it wherever it exists’ as well as reports to be completed by embassies on the prevalence of slavery in their respective countries, and an annual report on global slavery. As she was unable to attend the Report stage, due to overseas visits to HART partners, Lord Alton took her amendments forward. Together, they consulted multiple other peers in the House of Lords and civil society organisations, in particular Kalayaan, Anti Slavery International and Dalit Freedom Network on the best routes forward to achieve their goals.

Achievements

The making of this Bill has had many ups and downs. There have been positive changes to the Bill since it was first tabled, including the now mandatory requirement for international companies to produce a statement signed by their directors detailing steps taken to eradicate slavery in their supply chains and across the UK. The role of ‘Child Advocates’ has been established to ensure support for children who have been trafficked and suffered exploitation, and an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, has been appointed to monitor the process and ensure compliance by various agencies. So there is much to be hopeful about.

Kevin Hyland told the Government News that, ‘through the passing of the Modern Slavery Act the UK has the opportunity to once again lead the fight against this cruel trade in human life. But we must be clear that this is just the first step. My role has been created to spearhead the UK’s response both domestically and internationally and to ensure agencies use the new legislation to its full potential, whilst crucially also calling to account those that fail to deliver.’ He, and the British Government, are hopeful that the passing of this ‘landmark legislation’ will deter criminals and protect those who have been subjected to slavery, exploitation and trafficking.

Overseas Domestic Workers

Unfortunately, there are still shortcomings to the Modern Slavery Act. Many across the UK, including us at HART, celebrated the historic vote in the House of Lords to reverse the Overseas Domestic Workers Visa to the pre-2012 version (see previous blog post for more detail), which promised to provide better protection from abusive employers by allowing people on the domestic worker’s visa to change employer. However, following the return of the Bill to the House of Commons, a new amendment was made which requires ‘domestic workers to receive a positive decision from the National Referral Mechanism confirming they have been trafficked before allowing them to change employers’. This is likely to increase vulnerability as they will not be permitted to leave the abusive employer until an assessment has been made. The amendment will potentially deter abused domestic workers from reporting crimes against them as they may be at risk of reprisals from if they are seen to be engaging with the authorities.

Transparency in Supply Chains

In addition, the ‘international’ dimension of the Modern Slavery Act arguably has not gone far enough. Whilst it is a positive development that international organisations with a particular annual turnover (still to be determined by the Secretary of State) must now produce a statement on steps taken to eradicate slavery in their company, there is still the option to simply state that ‘the organisation has taken no such steps’. This clause therefore promises very little in the way of sizeable efforts to eradicate slavery in supply chains and internationally.

A positive inclusion in this clause is the guide for what a statement could include, if a company was keen to comply and provide a thorough statement. This was repeatedly requested by Peers and businesses, who felt that a statement guide might encourage greater compliance and make it easier for companies to follow the guidelines should they wish to. A level playing field has not yet been achieved for companies who have eradicated slavery in their business and supply chains, but the Act at least provides some pressure for other organisations to follow suit.

Conclusions

The Modern Slavery Act will arguably not achieve everything it set out to, especially in relation to the eradication of slavery in supply chains and the protection of those trafficked and caught in slavery and servitude in the UK.  However, it is important to note that, because of this Act being passed, there is greater victim protection, stronger law enforcement, and pressure on international organisations to monitor the risk of slavery in their supply chains and their own businesses. The appointment of the independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to oversee the future process, and the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Agreement as regulator of cooperation of public authorities means that more will hopefully be done to protect victims of trafficking and exploitation and prevent future cases of modern day slavery.

 

Find out more:

To see the Modern Slavery Act in its entirety, follow this link.
For more background on the process of the Bill:
–          Take a look at our previous blog posts, ‘What is to Become of the Modern Slavery Bill?’ and ‘Success for campaigners for Domestic Workers in the Modern Slavery Bill Report Stage of the House of Lords’
–          HART news pieces on the Bill can be found here.

Key Organisations working against slavery:

–          Kalayaan: Twitter (https://twitter.com/Kalayaan)

–          Dalit Freedom Network UK: Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/dfnuk), Twitter (https://twitter.com/dfnuk)

–          Anti Slavery International: Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Anti-Slavery-International/46852258376), Twitter (https://twitter.com/Anti_Slavery)

–          Unseen:  Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/unseenuk), Twitter (https://twitter.com/UnseenOrg)
–          Stop The Traffik: Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/STOPTHETRAFFIK), Twitter (https://twitter.com/stopthetraffik)

–          International Justice Mission: Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/IJMUK?brand_redir=1), Twitter (https://twitter.com/IJM)

Please contact us at office@hart-uk.org if you would like details of how to purchase Baroness Cox’s book on modern day slavery, This Immoral Trade. This book contains powerful stories heard first-hand from victims of modern day slavery.


Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.

Anna Cox

By Anna Cox

Anna holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Sussex. She is passionate about human rights and gender, in particular in the context of Burma. She has worked with refugees from Shan State, Burma and is currently a research and advocacy intern at HART.


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