LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Britain is “seriously failing” human trafficking victims, according to the head of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK.
Sarah Teather’s comments came after Wednesday’s publication of the government’s independent review of the Modern Slavery Act issued in 2015.
The law is considered one of the most comprehensive in the world, giving law enforcement agencies more powers to fight human trafficking, and providing special protection for the victims.
The review of the law focused on four topics: Transparency in supply chains, the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, the Act’s legal application, and the safeguarding of child victims.
“Modern slavery is one of humanity’s greatest evils: involving human trafficking, forced labor, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation,” said Frank Field, the member of Parliament who chaired the review committee.
“We know that: The perpetrators of these crimes exploit the most vulnerable people in our society; modern slavery pervades every country in the world and every community of the United Kingdom; the most conservative estimate of the number of victims of modern slavery in the UK is put at ten to thirteen thousand. Other bodies suggest the number could be in the hundreds of thousands and rising,” he wrote in the introduction.
Around 7,000 suspected victims of human trafficking were discovered in the UK in 2018 – nearly half of them minors. This is an increase of a third from the year before.
The report noted too few people had been convicted under the act, there was a lack of training for professionals affected by the act, and the data collection mandated by the act was faulty.
JRS UK noted the review highlighted failures to protect victims from prosecution for acts they have been forced to carry out while held in slavery and warned that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner was “too heavily influenced and constricted” by the ruling government.
Last year, the first commissioner Kevin Hyland resigned from the role, stating his independence felt “somewhat discretionary” as opposed to “legally bestowed.”
“This report is further evidence that we are seriously failing in our duty to protect those who have been subjected to trafficking. At JRS UK, we regularly support victims held indefinitely in immigration detention, often even after they have been referred into the mechanism that is supposed to protect them. Urgent action is required,” Teather said.
Last October, JRS UK published a report documenting that victims of human trafficking had been held in indefinite detention by the British government.
The organization said the system used to determine whether an asylum seeker is a trafficking victim – called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – is not working correctly and said there are “good reasons for thinking that the Home Office’s interest in immigration control undermines the system for identifying and supporting victims, resulting in their continued detention.”
The new anti-slavery commissioner, Sara Thornton, said she welcomed the publication of the report.
“I welcome the report and that it raises many vital issues. I support the need to ensure that businesses and Government are doing all they can to exclude slavery from supply chains, the importance of providing improved support for all child victims of slavery and the importance of upholding my independence as I monitor the work of public authorities in fighting modern slavery and drive the UK’s response to protect the most vulnerable in our society,” she said in a statement.
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