In March 2023, the Modern Slavery PEC responded to the Home Affairs Committee’s call for written evidence as part of its inquiry into human trafficking in the UK. The submission we responded with draws evidence from existing research and data.
The summary and key recommendations from our evidence are as follow:
- The number of people referred to the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the identification and support system for potential victims of modern slavery – is increasing, with nearly 17,000 people referred in 2022. The characteristics of people referred to the NRM have changed over time, particularly in terms of gender, age, and exploitation type. For example, the proportion of females referred to the NRM has decreased from 61% of all referrals in 2014 to 21% of referrals in 2022. There have been significant, recent changes in the UK and globally that affect the drivers of modern slavery in the UK, such as conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The UK Government asserts that some foreign nationals are abusing the Modern Slavery Act 2015 but it has not published sufficient evidence to demonstrate either the nature or scale of any abuse of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
- The Illegal Migration Bill, if enacted, would have serious implications for foreign nationals affected by modern slavery. It would lead to the detention and deportation of people who are recognised to be potential victims of modern slavery, in breach of the positive obligation to protect in Article 4 ECHR.
- There is scope to make the operation of the UK’s current protection and support system for survivors, and the policy underpinning it, more effective in practice. Issues identified by research include: the need for improved and early identification of survivors, and trauma-informed and culturally competent services; lack of clarity among survivors and service providers about victims’ entitlements; barriers to accessing those entitlements; procedural delays in the NRM; and a need to better link specialist modern slavery support services with wider systems such as housing and health.
- Outside of survivor identification and support, modern slavery legislation and policy could be made more effective by placing a greater strategic focus on preventing harm in the first place, and by meaningfully including people with lived experience of modern slavery in strategies, policies and programmes. Action to address forced labour in supply chains would be more effective if changes are made to the legislative framework at section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and there is a need to explore further supply chains levers, such as through international trade and the role of investors.
Summary of Key Recommendations
- The Home Office should collect and publish more data to enable better understanding of modern slavery in the UK, and to enable an assessment of the assertions made by Ministers about abuse of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
- The Home Office should improve the effectiveness of the policy and operation of the identification and support system by taking account of the issues raised by survivors and in research studies.
- The UK Government should clarify its intentions around revising the 2014 Modern Slavery Strategy.