Modern Slavery an inadequate response
Yesterday the Government published its response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee’s report on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill. As I blogged on the 14 April the Draft Bill was deficient in many ways, a view the Joint Committee also took.
It would be lacking in generosity of spirit not to acknowledge that the Government has taken on some of the recommendations of the Joint Committee, at least in part. On the independence of the Commissioner the Government has made some movement. For example, it has accepted that the grounds for redaction of sections of the Commissioners reports by the Home Secretary, should be more narrowly defined – for reasons of state security, where it might jeopardise an individual’s safety or might prejudice an investigation or the prosecution of an offence. In addition, the Home Secretary will be required to lay such reports before Parliament as soon as reasonably practical.
However, the Commissioner will still have to agree their work plan with the Home Secretary. Will not have an overarching remit for all aspects of Modern Slavery and cannot appoint their own staff. These add-up to a severe restriction on the independence of the Commissioner.
The Government has also accepted that support for victims should be put on a statutory basis by being included in the Bill. As it states:
The Modern Slaver Bill now contains a provision for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to front-line professionals and first responders, to help in the identification of victims and set out the provisions of support and assistance available to victims, in line with our international obligations.
As part of the process of establishing what support and how this support should be delivered we are told a review of the existing National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is being conducted. Worryingly we are also told:
….any process of identifying and supporting victims must be affordable and consistent with other Government objectives.
Just in case we are in any doubt what these objectives are, they are spelt out for us and include immigration controls! In this we have a fundamental contradiction between international law which ultimately allows the victim to determine what is in their best interest, including the right to remain and a Government committed to bringing about net migration.
It is certainly welcome that the Bill will now empower the Home Secretary to establish a system of child advocates. Initially this will be done through a trial.
Whereas there is undoubtedly some movement by the Government on some areas of criticism, in others there is nothing.
For example, despite the fact that the Joint Committee suggested some very modest requirements on companies to help eliminate forced labour from their supply chains, the Government is going to do nothing. In part they seek to justify their inaction by referring to other initiatives generally in this area. However, they then go on to say:
The Government wants to work collaboratively with businesses to support them to eliminate forced labour in supply chains, in a way which does not place additional burdens on them.
One could most charitably typify this as the Government’s firm commitment to having a light touch when it comes to regulating business.
We are further told that the Home Secretary will be meeting with business leaders in June to help assess the most effective way forward. What we are not told is that the meeting was scheduled for the day after the publication of the Government’s response to the Joint Committee – which is today at the time of writing.
Furthermore, many companies including those who are partners in the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) simply do not agree with the Government on this issue. They what effective legislation in this area. They do not what a voluntary code which bad employers will ignore. They want a mandatory system which will create a level playing field for all employers and will not disadvantage those who want to do the right thing.
It would seem that this Government has little understanding of the needs of, certainly, big business. They have shut the door on the issue of supply chains and have then gone on to ask companies what they want. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion than the Government’s behaviour, in this, is either disingenuous or just incompetent.
The TUC has argued that the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority should at least be extended to other sections of the economy where workers are particularly vulnerable and that their resources should expand accordingly. The TUC was therefore pleased to see that the Joint Committee called for the very same changes. Unfortunately the Government’s response to the Joint committee is also the same as the response they have given to us. They simply are not going to do it.
Again like the TUC the Joint Committee called for the Overseas Domestic Workers visa to be reinstated. Enabling Overseas Domestic Workers to change their employer, so giving them a possible escape route out of an abusive relationship. Again the Government have made it clear that they are not going to do this either!
The Joint Committees response to the Draft Modern Employment Bill was far from perfect but the adoption of its recommendations would have improved the Bill immeasurably. Sadly it will be vulnerable people who pay the price for this failure.