Modern Slavery Bill – Update
Last week saw the publication of the Joint Committee’s Report on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill. The Joint Committee being drawn from members of the House of Lords and Commons. It is a thorough piece of work which gives support to every concern expressed in the TUC’s own evidence and provides solutions where appropriate. Whilst it’s not possible to give full justice to the arguments it develops in a short blog like this I will try to give an overview of some of its main themes.
It seeks to simplify criminal offences of forced labour to support more convictions. The current law is so complex and ridden with loopholes that the police and CPS often back away from it and where possible go for convictions under other laws. For example, under the current draft clause 2 a successful prosecution requires that the defendant moves an individual with a view to exploiting them. If however the movement and the exploitation are done by different people then clause 2 is not satisfied and you cannot get a successful conviction. The Committee argue that the Bill should not merely be a consolidation process of cutting and pasting existing legislation but also a reforming process improving inadequate law.
The biggest weakness the TUC saw in the existing Bill was its failure to deal with the identification and support of victims of forced labour – a view shared by many others including Anti-Slavery International. For when it comes to adults, if victims of forced labour will not cooperate with the authorities then convictions are just about impossible. Victims need to feel supported and given options to make positive choices about their futures. Accordingly, the Committee calls for the principles of victim care and services to be put on a statutory footing. This will help create greater consistency in support and a legal right for victims to demand such support.
The Committee also recognises that the existing Bill does not make adequate provision for child victims of forced labour. It argues that because of the extreme vulnerability of children, offences against children should be especially heavily punished and therefore calls for a separate offence of exploiting and trafficking a child. The Committee reflecting International law also calls for the establishment by statute of a system of Advocates for child victims – reflecting the role of guardians in the EU Directive and the Council of Europe’s Convention on trafficking. Together with other support mechanisms more appropriate for children.
The Report also deals with the thorny question of how people forced into committing crimes should be dealt with. Begging or more seriously being forced to work growing cannabis being two examples given. The TUC has supported the view that the victims of forced labour should not in these circumstances themselves face prosecution. Again the Committee supports the broad principle, arguing that there should be a statutory defence of being a victim of modern slavery. Within the definition it proposes it includes the clause that it should:
‘Provide protection that is proportionate to the offence committed by the victim’
It would not for instance give absolute legal protection to a victim who has killed someone who has exploited them.
While welcoming the creation of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner as a focal point for galvanising the fight against modern slavery; it like the TUC is critical of their lack of independence as described in the Bill. In the Bill the Home Secretary is given effective operational control over the Commissioner, telling them what they can report on and even having the power to edit the Commissioner’s reports. This is both unacceptable and unnecessary. As the Committee points out there are numerous examples of truly independent office holders who can ultimately hold the Government to account e.g. the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.
To round-up on this multi-faceted report, the Committee also wishes to extend the provisions of the Bill into the area of ensuring that where goods and services are produced elsewhere but sold in the UK that they are free from the taint of slavery. The Committee is also critical of the changes to the Overseas Domestic Workers visa which amongst other things ties the worker to one potentially abusive employer . They are also critical of the changes that the Government has inflicted on the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and call for its powers as well as its industrial remit to be extended.
All the above and more can be found in the Committee’s Report. Undoubtedly some fine legal minds will pore over it and quibble but overwhelmingly the Report sets a standard on how the issue of forced labour should be dealt with. I for one hope the Government accepts the Report in full.