‘Slavery still exists’. Demonstrators opposed to modern slavery march through London wearing face masks symbolising the silence of people subjected to forced labour and sexual exploitation. Photograph: Mathew Chattle/Barcroft Images.

What can I do to help tackle trafficking and modern slavery?

Post by author of ‘Unseen Lives’, Kate Garbers

The UK has positioned itself as a world leader in the fight against modern slavery but the anti-slavery sector proposes that inclusion of modern slavery in the Nationality and Borders Bill threatens this legacy.

The government states in its manifesto that they are committed to reforming the current immigration system and immigration controls and have launched the Nationality and Borders Bill to meet the promises made to the British public. Immigration control is something that the UK public appear in favour of. People want to manage those entering the UK and make sure that they are coming to contribute, this is arguably an understandable stance. But when news headlines tell us of dangerous journeys, of dangerous criminals abusing our systems and confuse trafficking, smuggling, economic migration and asylum the aim of what the Bill is trying to achieve begins to get murky. Do we really know what the Bill contains and the impact it will have – in this case specifically on victims of modern slavery?

‘Modern slavery’ is an umbrella term that encompasses human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced labour. 

The estimated scale of the issue indicates there are up to 100,000 victims in the UK, however according to recent statistics only just over 10,000 victims were identified. The systems that have been put in place to support those identified are critiqued as being limited – with calls for victims to be able to access longer term care, be given the right to work and the right to remain in the UK.  The Government are seen as repeatedly falling short in meeting their obligations to survivors of slavery and are increasingly facing judicial reviews for falling short of their protection and support obligations.

The anti-slavery sector has, rightly, long called for change to support for survivors and yet none of us predicted that modern slavery and the provisions for victims would be included in the Nationality and Borders Bill, especially when we have the Modern Slavery Act (2015), the Act which reflected the Government’s determination to make a stand against modern slavery.

There are multiple issues with this conflation of immigration and modern slavery, not least that some 34% of victims identified last year were British nationals, not subject to immigration control. The Government has been unable to provide data for the claims made that ‘dangerous criminals and rapists’ are abusing the systems of support offered to victims and whilst they have enshrined victim support within the Bill have cherry picked elements of support they want to implement rather than incorporate international obligations into domestic law.

Including modern slavery in the Nationality and Borders Bill undermines the Modern Slavery Act, risks causing damage to those the Government intends to protect, allows criminals to act with impunity and put victims at greater risk, creating barriers to identification and excluding people from the protection they need.

Very few of us expected to see modern slavery included in a Bill that focuses on immigration and for survivors of modern slavery I dispute the Government’s claim that ‘This is a package of measures that is fair, firm and compassionate – that brings the immigration system, after so many years, into line with the British people’s own sense of what is right’.

I think the British public will be shocked by the plans Government has in relation to those who have experienced and endured modern slavery and luckily there is still time to have our voices heard on this issue and to make a difference. I would encourage people to learn more about the types of trafficking and modern slavery identified in the UK, the sectors it is identified in, the current systems of support available and how victims and survivors are impacted and experience these. Once you have learnt about the issue you can ask your MP not to support the modern slavery clauses in the Bill.

There are five easy things you can do to get involved and learn more about the issue.

What can I do?

Buy Unseen Lives: The Hidden World of Modern Slavery to learn more about the issue and those it impacts (all proceeds from sales go to the charity Unseen)

Learn more about Part Five of the Nationality and Borders Bill and what the evidence shows the impact of the Bill will be on survivors

Visit the Slavery Footprint website and learn about how many slaves work for you

Write to your MP – you can write your own letter or use one of the templates organisations in the anti-slavery sector have developed

Donate to the work of an organisation working to directly support survivors

Unseen Lives: The Hidden World of Modern Slavery. Written by Kate Garbers. Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2021. Profits of the book are donated to Unseen.

About Kate Garbers

Kate Garbers has worked in the anti-slavery sector since 2009. She is Founder and former Director of Unseen UK, a charity that provides safety, hope and choice to survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery and now works as a Research Fellow at the Rights Lab and as a Modern Slavery Consultant. 

NB: This article focuses purely on Part Five: Modern Slavery of the Nationality and Borders Bill. The author is not qualified to speak to the rest of the Bill although wishes to note that organisations (both international and national) and colleagues across refugee and migrant sectors have spoken out clearly about their concerns and the impact they see this Bill having on those seeking safety in the UK.

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