24 Nov 2013

Slaves working in British nail bars, factories, farms

As the police grapple with a case in Brixton where three women were kept as slaves for thirty years, the Home Secretary says that slavery is “all around us”, and the current law makes it hard to stop.

Slavery is prevalent in modern Britain, and current victims often fall between the gaps, the Home Secretary Theresa May said today.

“It is all around us, hidden in plain sight,” she said, writing in the Telegraph, “It is walking our streets, supplying shops and supermarkets, working in fields, factories or nail bars, trapped in brothels or cowering behind the curtains in an ordinary street: slavery.”

“Something most of us thought consigned to history books, belonging to a different century, is a shameful and shocking presence in modern Britain.”

Her words echo the research by the Centre for Social Justice into slavery in Britain which highlighted the industries where slavery and slavers tended to flourish.

“Primarily originating from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, victims of modern slavery in the UK are forced into sex work, domestic servitude, agriculture, construction, food processing, benefit fraud, and coerced criminality.”

A recent report into slavery in Britain had a similar conclusion. Describing a “messy” situation that let victims down, the Centre for Social Justice said this:

“We have been shocked by many of our findings. A leadership vacuum at the heart of Westminster; a messy legislative framework; frontline professionals – however well meaning and brilliant in some areas – forced to swim against a tide of indifference if they want to fight this crime; official bodies failing in their duty of care, with little idea about the scale of the problem; UK-born children being trafficked and abused; a fragmented charitable sector with some organisations struggling to work together; far too little support and care for survivors; and major supply chains within the business community devoid of basic transparency.”

Flaws in the modern law

Under the current system, slavery offences are covered by three pieces of legislation: trafficking law, sexual offences acts and the Asylum and Immigration law and the confusion leads to victims – and criminals – falling between the gaps.

Ms May is backing a new Slavery bill before the House of Commons now which aims to pull together the legislation, make it easier to prosecute criminals and give more support to victims.

It should also tackle the common misperception that slavery is an immigration offence said Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, who introduced the Modern Slavery Bill to Parliament earlier this year.

“It serves to maintain the widely held misunderstanding of modem slavery as primarily an immigration—not a criminal—problem,” he told Parliament. “Bringing all modem slavery and human trafficking offences under one Act would address the current confusion and misunderstanding in the justice system.

“Moreover, the symbolic message of enacting these provisions under the title “Modem Slavery Act” would itself help to raise the profile of modem slavery and send a clear message, domestically and internationally, that the UK takes this issue very seriously.”