Collaboration at the heart of tackling modern slavery

Lawyers understand the role that the private sector can play in the fight against slavery. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 contains a provision requiring large companies to disclose action they are taking to ensure their UK and global supply chains are slavery free. For more information see Legal update, Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill 2016 first reading in House of Lords. 

This collaboration between the private sector and enforcement agencies is replicated in the approach to tackling cybercrime and indicates a shift in the way serious offences are investigated. On 6 July 2016 the European Commission published the Directive on security of network and information systems. The Directive will enter into force this month. Member States will have 21 months to transpose the Directive into their national laws and 6 months more to identify operators of essential services. The National Crime Agency  (NCA) published a Cyber Crime Assessment for 2016. Both this and the directive call for a collaborative approach between business and law enforcement to tackle cyber crime. For more information see Blog: A focus on cybercrime.

The NCA is to lead, support and coordinate the law enforcement response to modern slavery and works in collaboration with other authorities. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) (soon to be the GLAA) investigates labour exploitation in the UK, working in collaboration with other agencies, such as HM Revenue and Customs on National Minimum Wage enforcement, and is responsible for regulating the activities of gangmasters in the agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering, food and drink processing and packaging sectors.

What may not be clear is the crucial role played by NGOs and civil society organisations.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May emphasised the dependence on NGO’s and Civil Society organisations in tackling slavery.

“Working with a wide-range of partners, we must step up the fight against modern slavery in this country, and internationally, to put an end to the misery suffered by innocent people around the world. “

Civil society organisations and charities dedicated to ensuring victims receive the support and help they need have an essential role to play. Success in tackling modern slavery depends upon improving the way in which public authorities work with their NGO partners.

This was echoed by Kevin Hyland OBE, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, in his strategic report :

“Effective partnerships between statutory agencies, civil society organisations and the private sector are an essential factor in implementing a comprehensive response to modern slavery within and beyond UK borders. Combating modern slavery requires the expertise, resources and efforts of many different individuals and entities, and the role of civil society organisations in particular is crucial.”

His priorities as set out are:

  • Victim Identification & Care: To drive improved identification of victims of modern slavery and enhanced levels of immediate and sustained support for victims and survivors across the UK .
  • Private Sector Engagement: To engage with the private sector to promote policies to ensure that supply chains are free from slavery and to encourage effectual transparency reporting .
  • Partnerships: To identify, promote and facilitate best practice in partnership working, and to encourage improved data sharing and high quality research into key issues.
  • International collaboration: To encourage effective and targeted international collaboration to combat modern slavery .
  • Law Enforcement Evaluation: To promote an improved law enforcement and criminal justice response across the UK, to support development and adoption of effective training, and to increase awareness of modern slavery across relevant statutory agencies.

The strategy for tackling slavery set out in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 policy and statement has 4 strands:

  • Pursue: Prosecuting and disrupting individuals and groups responsible for modern slavery.
  • Prevent: Preventing people from engaging in modern slavery.
  • Prepare: Reducing the harm caused by modern slavery through improved victim identification and enhanced support and protection for victims.
  • Protect: Strengthening safeguards against modern slavery.

This policy emphasises the necessity for forces to use structures to support close working with NGOs. The role of protecting victims is identified as a job for civil society organisations.

Evidence from around the world also makes clear that without effective support for victims it is very difficult to increase the number of prosecutions. Victims must be made to feel safe and confident enough to come forward and share their accounts. Evidence suggests that unless appropriate support is provided to victims, together with a parallel investigation into the crime, vulnerable people will not receive justice, offences will go unpunished and offenders will continue to view modern slavery as a low risk and high profit crime. At present, the burden of supporting these victims falls largely on charities.

Practical Law Morag Rea

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