The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner today hailed the Evening Standard’s special investigation into modern slavery for boosting efforts to combat the problem in the capital.
“[The investigation] has been key,” said, Kevin Hyland. “It has only been going a month but it is really starting to generate responses. We’re already seeing more reports, and more law enforcement activity. It has been a real step forward.”
Mr Hyland’s comments came as he launched the IASC annual report, published this morning, detailing his department’s efforts and outlining its next areas of focus. His role was created in 2015, as part of the Modern Slavery Act.
“If we look at where we are now, two years on from the Act, did we think we’d be this far forward? No,” said Mr Hyland.
“But at a time when there are so many challenges in the world, modern-day slavery has remained at the top of the agenda. The development goal is to eradicate modern slavery by 2030.
“It’s a big task, but in the UK we are on track. William Wilberforce changed things in 20 years, at a time when slavery was legal.”
On the victim support side, Mr Hyland has been a vocal critic of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), by which potential victims of modern slavery in the UK are assessed for support. “We made recommendations to the Government, and I’m confident we’re going to see very significant changes to that support,” he said. “But we need every government agency working together, from local authorities to the HMRC and Health & Safety as well as law enforcement, otherwise modern-day slavery will remain a niche subject.”
Law enforcement is another priority. Of the estimated 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, only a small number enter NRM, and an even smaller number of criminal cases are brought. “We’ve seen a 160 per cent increase in crimes recorded, which is a significant jump,” Mr Hyland said.
“The National Crime Agency have completely changed their view, and they now treat modern slavery cases as a priority. We’re seeing cases prosecuted without victims present, which is a step forward. We’ve educated 1,500 judges about modern slavery so they know to see it as the serious crime that it is, one of the most serious on our statute books. And now we are seeing sentences of 15 years, rather than two or three.”
Another focus of the report is Britain’s bilateral arrangements with foreign governments. Albania, Vietnam and Nigeria are the most common origin countries for slaves in the UK. Part of the IASC’s effort is in working abroad to prevent potential victims from being trafficked in the first place.
“Eleven thousand women arrived in Italy from Nigeria last year,” he said “and 80 per cent of them are destined to be exploited for sex or domestic labour, many of them in the UK. The only way to get real change is to go back to source, by taking away the power of these criminals in the areas where they operate.”
Public awareness is only helpful if it leads to concrete action, Mr Hyland added. “The Evening Standard has drawn attention to the scandal of car washes. But it’s no good educating the public about nail bars and car washes if, when they are reported, no action is taken.
“To make modern slavery socially unacceptable and push it off the high street we need three things: public awareness, good laws, and for those laws to be enforced. If any part is missing, the crime may continue.”
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