Measures against modern-day slavery in the UK need an overhaul to combat organised crime

Britain’s immediate and long-term response to slavery victims is not up to standard, The Centre for Social Justice says

epa08529597 Police patrol as people eat and drink in bars and restaurants on an evening in Soho, London, Britain, 05 July 2020. Pubs, restaurants, places of worship and other businesses reopen their doors across the UK reopened on 04 July after more than three months of lockdown due to coronavirus pandemic.  EPA/NEIL HALL

Human rights activists have suggested an overhaul of the UK’s anti-slavery systems, five years after the country signed up to groundbreaking legislation.

The Centre for Social Justice report found there could be up to 100,000 slaves in the UK, or 10 times the estimated number, as the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic brings dire economic conditions that make the false promises made by traffickers too tempting for some of the world's most vulnerable people.

A previous CSJ report helped the 2015 Modern Slavery Act become law and now the group thinks that the problems are being sidelined and reform is needed in crucial areas.

“There is a serious risk that the crisis triggered by Covid-19 will lead to a rise in modern slavery and human trafficking,” the CSJ wrote.

“The main drivers of modern slavery – poverty, lack of opportunity and other vulnerabilities – will intensify, resulting in an increased risk of exploitation and abuse.

“Millions of people will be driven into desperation to meet their basic needs and to provide for their families, which will ultimately increase the risk of exploitation.”

The CSJ found that in the UK there was a growing number of British slaves as well as thousands smuggled in from abroad and that the knowledge of front-line workers needed be improved.

It also said the UK’s immediate and longer-term response to victims is not up to standard. By using artificial intelligence software to analyse crime data, the CSJ calculated there could be at least 100,000 victims in the UK.

The report recommends:

  • The UK enshrine survivor rights into law so that support for the exploited is not considered a luxury;
  • Police and charities work together to fight slavery;
  • Identify slave masters and organised gangs who currently see slavery as low risk, high reward;
  • Allow some foreign victims to return home;
  • Understand the scale of the problem and invest accordingly.

“If we are to vanquish this seemingly permanent blight on our society, the Government will need to build on this groundbreaking Act,” Lord Hague said in the report’s foreword. “This report sets out very clearly why that should happen and how it can.

“Based on extensive work with front-line practitioners, local authorities and police forces, it combines powerful insights into the scale and nature of modern slavery with a clear agenda for what needs to be done next.”