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Answers to frequently asked questions about the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre.

The purpose of a Policy and Evidence Centre is to build the bridge between the excellent research being done in universities and other research organisations and the world of policy-making, law-making and international standard-setting. The key feature of the Modern Slavery PEC is its rigorous focus on having a high impact by ensuring that the research that it produces or facilitates is highly relevant to all the actors involved in those processes, including politicians, civil servants, civil society, business, journalists and international organisations, and that its outputs are in a form which can readily and directly influence those actors. The Modern Slavery PEC aims to provide independent, impartial and authoritative recommendations, grounded in rigorous research, and of practical use to all of those participants in the process of making and enforcing law, policy and international standards.

The Modern Slavery PEC responds to urgent need to accelerate global progress in addressing modern slavery. While progress has been made, much work is left to do. This challenge affects every country, including developed economies, as recent high profile examples in the UK demonstrate.

Modern slavery is a human rights issue and the Modern Slavery PEC takes a human rights-based approach to addressing modern slavery. That means putting the needs and interests of the people who are or might become affected by modern slavery at the heart of legal and policy responses.

  • To transform our understanding of modern slavery.
  • To model and bring about a more collaborative approach to responding to modern slavery.
  • To make legal and policy responses to modern slavery more effective.
  • To bring into being a “network of networks”, to enable better dialogue and knowledge sharing about what works to combat modern slavery.

Much world class research on modern slavery is already done in the UK, including by partners in the Modern Slavery PEC. There are also many admirable initiatives around the world. But there is still much work being duplicated, and insufficient sharing of experience and insight. The Modern Slavery PEC facilitates the collaboration required to achieve a step change in the policy-relevant research that is being done to inform legal and policy responses to modern slavery, by bringing researchers together with key stakeholders, including people with lived experience.

Broadly speaking, the impact aimed for is:

  • Better policy.
  • Better laws.
  • More emphasis on prevention.
  • Enhanced support for victims and survivors.
  • More effective enforcement of laws against modern slavery.
  • Fewer people trapped in modern slavery.
  • An increase in measurable progress towards the global goal of eradicating modern slavery by 2030.

The research agenda will focus on four broad themes:

  • Prevention – e.g. understanding better the systemic factors which make individuals vulnerable to modern slavery and the ecosystems which sustain it, so that policy interventions can increasingly focus on prevention rather than cure.
  • Understanding the needs of victims and survivors and enhancing their support – e.g. evaluating the effectiveness of current forms of support such as the National Referral Mechanism and how support can be provided in a way that minimises the risk of survivors being re-trafficked.
  • Transparency in supply chains – e.g. research aimed at understanding consumer behaviour in response to information about modern slavery in business supply chains, and how it can be leveraged; what incentivises business to take a more proactive approach to eliminating modern slavery in their supply chains; how to ensure that public bodies are also proactive about modern slavery in supply chains in their approach to procurement.
  • Law enforcement – e.g. research aimed at understanding better the obstacles to using the existing suite of enforcement measures to prosecute modern slavery offences.
  • Overarching themes, such as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on modern slavery

No. Modern slavery in the UK is an important focus of the Modern Slavery PEC, but the phenomenon is, by its very nature, a global problem, so the Centre also focuses on modern slavery internationally. It engages with the UK Foreign Office and Department for International Development about its policy towards modern slavery overseas. It engages with foreign governments and legislatures about their legal and policy responses to modern slavery. And it engages directly with international organisations working on modern slavery, including international standard-setting processes.

The Modern Slavery PEC is seeking to identify the research questions which require long term thinking and careful consideration, but also aims to be agile, responding quickly to opportunities that arise to inform and influence the policy debate where there is a basis in research to do so. Its approach to commissioning research therefore combines both longer term projects and shorter evaluations and studies capable of informing current developments.

Yes. The Modern Slavery PEC will work closely with policy-makers to ensure that its work is policy-relevant. It will inform and influence policy but it will not be afraid to challenge Government policy where necessary in light of the evidence produced by its research.

Yes. The Modern Slavery PEC directly involves business as an important partner in the work to address modern slavery and seeks to harness the private sector’s creative capacity to innovate, but it is not controlled or unduly influenced by private interests. Contributing partners, which make contributions in cash or in kind to the Modern Slavery PEC, will be sought, but all contributions will be completely transparent. Academic freedom and integrity are core values of the Modern Slavery PEC and is safeguarded through rigorous governance structures.

No, the Modern Slavery PEC is not a campaigning or lobbying organisation. The Modern Slavery PEC shares the universally agreed goal of eradicating modern slavery but only provides policy-relevant evidence and recommendations, which are the product of rigorous research conducted to the highest standards of academic integrity. It seeks to inform, influence and challenge on the basis of that research.

As well as being a human rights issues, modern slavery is also a Rule of Law issue. The Rule of Law requires that everyone enjoys the equal protection of the law. But millions of people today do not enjoy the protection of universally agreed international legal standards prohibiting slavery. More detailed protective legal frameworks either do not exist, are too weak, or are not effectively enforced in practice. The scale and persistence of modern slavery is in part the product of Rule of Law weakness or absence. The Modern Slavery PEC will be focused on how to deliver on the Rule of Law’s promise by extending the law’s protection of human dignity to everyone.

Modern slavery is also a problem that goes beyond the Rule of Law. Modern slavery is a complex phenomenon and to transform our understanding of it requires the input and expertise of a variety of academic disciplines from the arts and humanities, social sciences and technology. The Modern Slavery PEC is also committed to tackling modern slavery as a problem of sustainable development (SDG 8.7), of labour standards and rights, and of organised crime. The Modern Slavery PEC acknowledges that modern slavery is a product of drivers and root causes that are socio-economic, political and cultural in nature. The Modern Slavery PEC brings this expertise together in the consortium of partners, and will also be interdisciplinary in the wider partnerships that it builds to achieve its objectives. The other member universities within the Modern Slavery PEC’s consortium have an array of expertise across these different factors and the disciplinary capacity to apply appropriate theories and methods of analysis that enable an understanding of the contribution that these factors make to the problem of modern slavery.

The UKRI funding of the Modern Slavery PEC is for a five year period, to the end of the financial year 2023/24. However successful the Modern Slavery PEC is against its impact measures, its work will not be done by then. The Modern Slavery PEC will work from the outset to secure its long term future beyond the term of the grant, by building up relationships with contributing partners, and will aim to make itself sustainable by becoming an indispensable independent and authoritative voice in the long term effort to eradicate modern slavery.

The Modern Slavery PEC is a consortium of universities and Independent Research Organisations with a track record in world-class work on modern slavery. It is led by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law(part of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law) and consisting of the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull, the Centre for the Study of International Slavery at the University of Liverpool, the Bonavero Institute on Human Rights at the University of Oxford and The Alan Turing Institute. Representatives from the six main Partners constitute the Modern Slavery PEC Senior Management Board, which is responsible for strategic direction, outputs and impacts of the Centre.

Each of the partner organisations is also leading a work strand focused on a distinct theme to cover a wide range of topics within the Centre’s research objectives. Research is carried out by a Modern Slavery PEC Research Fellow, appointed within each institution. The work strand topics for each partner are as follows:

  • Supply chains, business models and worker voice - Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law
  • Effective antislavery governance - the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham
  • Law enforcement - Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull
  • International development - Centre for the Study of International Slavery at the University of Liverpool
  • Human rights, including criminal justice; victims' and survivors' rights - Bonavero Institute on Human Rights at the University of Oxford
  • Enabling data flows and data science for modern slavery policy innovation - the Alan Turing Institute

These work strands deliver a mixture of evidence reviews, policy briefs and other outputs.