The Modern Slavery Bill: A challenge to be grasped
As my colleague Owen Tudor Blogged yesterday, the Home Office’s latest estimates of those living in the UK in modern day slavery is 13,000. By modern day slavery it is not meant that there are 13,000 people in chains but through circumstances there are 13,000 who for a variety of reasons cannot leave their exploiting employer.
As Owen states this is sometimes due to debt bondage which again can arise in a number of ways. For example, workers who are in the UK and have every right to be here and working may be taken on by employers who initially offer them no work but provide them with accommodation and food and state you can pay me back when you are earning. Before they know it the worker is in debt and unable to leave their employer or indeed to return home if they have migrated to the UK. Similarly debt bondage can arise because workers pay people smugglers to get them to the UK only to find they also are not financially in a position to leave their employer and threatened with deportation should they even consider this course of action.
Modern day slavery is not however confined to those who have come to our country to work either lawfully or as an undocumented worker. Those vulnerable people at the fringes of our society, the homeless, the mentally ill, those with drink or drug problems are also at risk.
Modern day slavery in the UK is a reality however hard it is to accept that this is happening here and now! It is more understandable when you grasp that indeed it is not chains that bind these people but economics, immigration law and often fear of assault.
Generally if people do think of modern day slavery, they tend to think of women forced into prostitution. Tragically this of course does happen. However, ILO estimates and experience from other EU countries with a longer track record in combating forced labour e.g. Belgium, would suggest that forced labour outside of the sex industry is more prevalent than we are led to believe. Belgium labour inspectors report that the more they came to accept such exploitation existed and the more they have looked for it, the more they have found.
Modern day slavery is a shocking reality in the UK which needs to be addressed, hence why the Modern Slavery Bill currently before the Lords is a precious opportunity not to be wasted. As I have previously Blogged, the Governments initial Bill was deficient in many respects and it was very unfortunate that the Government did not take on board many more of the recommendations of the Joint Parliament Committee’s findings on the draft. At this late stage however the TUC is firmly behind four major amendments to the Bill as it stands.
As member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) the TUC has argued for a clause in the Bill which establishes transparency in supply chains and a duty on companies to identify where there is forced labour and to remove it – something which was not in the initial Bill and the call for which the Government initially resisted.
The TUC in support of the ETI is calling for a supply chains clause which has teeth and amongst other things:
- Applies to listed and non-listed companies of a certain size who will be required to publish their policies and strategies on modern day slavery on their websites.
- That a government department be held responsible for monitoring compliance with these new legal requirements.
- That there should be a clarity about what companies need to report with a clear commitment to providing the necessary resources and an obligation on them to exercise due diligence.
The TUC has long been of the view that the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority should be extended beyond its current remit into other sectors of the economy where experience shows exploitation by agencies is all too widespread. The TUC therefore supports the view that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has an important role in combating forced labour and that this role should be enlarged and enshrined in the Modern Slavery Bill.
The TUC has welcome the fact that the Bill provides for an Anti- Slavery Commissioner to oversee the effective working of the legislation, The TUC however believes that such a Commissioner can only be truly effective if:
- They are really independent of the Government and answerable to Parliament rather than the Home Secretary.
- That they have the power to require companies or private entities to pay compensation to the victims of exploitation.
Finally, the right of overseas domestic workers to change exploiting employers should be restored. It is a right which gave a very vulnerable group of workers a way out of abuse and should be made available again.
The Modern Slavery Bill is a great opportunity to tackle a grave injustice, it needs to be grasped.