Modern Slavery has been hitting the headlines a lot in 2017, with arrests, prosecutions, initiatives and new legislation on a near-weekly basis. On the eve of Anti Slavery Day 2017, here’s a roundup of how the world is slowly but surely responding to the reality of Modern Slavery abuses.
Modern Slavery is estimated to affect from 20 to 46 million people around the globe. It may be less obvious now, but it is more prevalent today than at any other time in history. The official estimate is that there are 13,000 modern day slaves in Britain alone but Kevin Hyland, the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, says this is far too modest. The true number is likely in the tens of thousands.
Last month, the National Crime Agency also said modern slavery and human trafficking was far more prevalent in the UK than law enforcement previously thought. With 300 live police operations into Modern Slavery just in August, the recent crackdown is starting to show the “shocking” scale of the crime nationwide. A recent post from The Economist shows how widespread the problem is globally and how prevalent the various forms of Modern Slavery are around the world.
From chilling personal accounts of modern slavery on the Guardian to commentary on improving the care for victims freed from exploitation, there are voices drawing attention to the issue from all corners.
Experts have warned that major companies in the UK are failing to disclose the risks of exploitation in their operations and supply chains. And there are also fears that Brexit will leave Britain more vulnerable to labour exploitation. Likewise, the British maritime industry has been criticised for deplorable working conditions aboard vessels in UK waters.
Despite the criticisms, Britain is a forerunner in stamping the problem out, whereas many countries are much further behind. For example in Brazil the government is being accused of easing anti-slavery rules, and the Prime Minister of India has been discrediting estimates from the UN because of fears that the bad press could hurt their economy.
The UK passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 and with the addition of the Transparency in Supply Chain Provisions requires businesses to publish an annual statement to confirm the steps they have taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in the business or in any supply chain.
The Act in the UK only applies to businesses with a turnover larger than £36-million a year, but SMEs may not be immune if they supply to businesses of this size. France has followed suit with a similar Duty of Care law, which criteria means it applies to fewer businesses but has more enforceable fines of up to €10 million (Euros). Australia is currently in the process of creating Modern Slavery laws and the US has indicated it would be willing to pass Anti-Slavery legislation as well.
Back in the UK, the Queen has backed action against Modern Slavery in all 52 countries of the commonwealth, similar to those now in place here.
In Scotland, the government has been raising awareness by highlighting locations with evidence of exploitation. A majority of locals don’t think it is present in their area, despite it occurring in 27 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
Some of the reports coming to light in the UK are almost stranger than fiction, but tragically they are very real.
In London police have been focusing on car washes and other small cash-only businesses.
A judge prosecuting 11 members of the same Traveller family has warned it may only be the tip of the iceberg. They had kept several vulnerable people under their control in squalid conditions, supplying them with booze and drugs, including one man who had been held against his will for 26 years.
A British woman is accused of trafficking people from Nigeria for sexual exploitation.
Vietnamese nail bar workers are thought to be at a high risk of modern slavery, and Vietnamese gangs are also implicated in regularly trafficking people to Britain, often teenagers, and putting them to work in Cannabis factories. In one incredible case a gang was found to have converted a disused underground nuclear bunker into a farm, seizing plants with an estimated street value of over £1million.
While the extent of Modern Slavery abuses is still being realised, there are some promising signs of the problem being addressed, often with the help of technology.
Asian businesses are collaborating across the region to develop systems that make it harder for unethical operators to take advantage of migrant workers. An Australian billionaire has started his own effort to end slavery, the Walk Free Foundation, after he saw the effects of the child sex trafficking trade whilst visiting orphanages in Nepal. A British brain trust is fighting slavery with satellites, using image recognition software to search for slave labour camps in remote regions of India and elsewhere. And things like facial recognition apps that are designed to check workers are legally verified to work in the construction industry are starting to surface.
Even though we are still trying to understand the complex world of Modern Slavery, people are rising to the challenge. Awareness is a major first step in tackling the problem in all parts of the world. Responsible businesses are doing their part to ensure they are not ‘sponsoring’ the hidden industry, and governments are slowly putting measures in place to prevent human trafficking and systemic abuse.
If you want to be more aware of how to spot Modern Slavery around you: read this guide from the Crimestoppers ‘Spot the Signs’ campaign. And if you think your business needs support to make sure supply chains and operations are free from exploitation, get in touch to find out more about our Modern Slavery eLearning module.