Alicia Kennedy on the issues coming up at today’s final session of Committee of the Modern Slavery Bill
We tend to think slavery is hidden from view. Much of it is but some is taking place in plain sight on our streets, farms and factories – and it is shocking and sickening. Babies bought, like cattle at a marketplace, for illegal adoptions. Children forced to beg on the streets or steal from passers-by. Sold in the UK for profit and personal gain. Sold as gardeners for cannabis farms, as sources of blood and hair for UK based witchcraft rituals, and sexual exploitation. And UNICEF estimates that at least 10 children are trafficked every week in the UK.
No wonder therefore, that there has been unanimity across the House of Lords for the Modern Slavery Bill to give greater support for victims, and increased protection for trafficked and enslaved children. In particular, the need to better protect children so they’re not prosecuted for crimes that their trafficker forced them to commit.
As drafted, the Bill adds a so-called ‘reasonable person test’, before a non-prosecution defence would apply to children. This would have a detrimental and harmful effect, going beyond both our current law and international law. It could help evil traffickers escape justice. It could also stop children being seen as victims from the outset, and therefore denied vital services and support.
Sadly, Ministers don’t seem willing to listen to the harmful effects of their immigration policy on Overseas Domestic Workers. In Second Reading, many Peers expressed concern about the increased level of abuse faced by this vulnerable group as a result of the government’s visa change in 2012 which ‘tied’ them to their employer.
So entrenched are Ministers in their position, it is hard to comprehend. How can they legislate to fight modern day slavery while also refusing to amend existing legislation that creates an enslaved situation? It is dogmatic and illogical. The 2012 change created the perfect storm: work carried out in isolated conditions, employers having excessive power afforded to them, and a legal system that offers no protection. Is it surprising abuse increased?
Slavery is a global problem that needs global solutions – something the Bill only has with a clause on transparency in supply chains thanks to campaigners, NGOs, businesses, trade unions, and others. They put issue under the spotlight and the government rightly gave way – even if in an ill-defined way.
Over the years, cheaper transport and communication costs have dramatically changed the way consumer goods are produced. Multinational corporations now have production plants around the world. They outsource many more stages of their production to different suppliers in different countries, who in turn employ sub-contractors to manage demand and beat the competition. In this way supply chains get very long and very complex, and one multinational can be interconnected to thousands of workplaces and millions of workers.
The sad fact is these supply chains can allow slavery to thrive and there is probably nothing we own that is completely slave free. But as multinationals enjoy the profits afforded to them, so too must they accept responsibility for the working conditions of their global workforce. This has to be the deal. Consumers expect this to be the deal.
Baroness Alicia Kennedy of Cradley is a backbench Labour Peer. She tweets @aliciakennedy07
Published 10th December 2014