Karen Bradley MP, the Government Minister with special responsibility for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime spoke on this complex issue on May 2 in Oxford.
“Modern slavery and human trafficking are appalling crimes taking place today, around the world, and here in this country.
The victims are often not visible to others. Those, who are trafficked, and forced into servitude and abuse, often go unseen.
Many are trafficked from other countries to the UK, sometimes tricked into believing they are heading towards a better life. Others are vulnerable people who originate from this country who are exploited, abused, and find themselves trapped with no way out.
Some are forced into the sex industry or into a life of crime. Others endure backbreaking labour on farms, on fishing vessels, in nail bars and restaurants or any other number of areas where forced labour is present – even working as slaves in people’s homes.
Victims may endure inhumane treatment and appalling physical and sexual abuse.
It is a crime taking place in British towns and cities – exploitation like this can happen on our doorstep, as residents in Oxford are too aware.
In 2013, over 1700 individuals were referred to the UK’s National Referral Mechanism, which assesses trafficking cases and gives potential victims access to support services.
This represents a 47% increase on referrals since 2012, and numbers keep rising.
Stamping out this abhorrent crime is a difficult and complex challenge.
Modern slavery vs historic slavery
Today, thanks to the dedication and self-sacrifice of the abolitionists, slavery is illegal across the world.
But while today the chains of modern slavery may not be visible, the suffering is very real.
So our focus must be on the relentless pursuit of the individuals and criminal gangs behind the majority of the modern slave trade.
Modern Slavery Bill
This government is taking action on a number of fronts.
Last December, the Home Secretary published a draft Modern Slavery Bill.
The Bill – the first of its kind in Europe – would be used to prosecute slave drivers and traffickers, and would increase the maximum sentence available to life imprisonment.
It would also create an important new role – an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
National Crime Agency
The National Crime Agency – which was launched last October – has a strong mandate for combating serious and organised crime at all levels – nationally and internationally. It will use its enhanced intelligence capabilities to deter, disrupt and bring to justice those responsible for these despicable crimes.
Throughout our work, our main focus must be on protecting and supporting victims.
As part of this work, the UK spends around £4 million annually on specialist support for victims.
What the public and business can do
But tackling modern slavery and human trafficking is not something the Government can address alone – society has a role to play on wider activity.
We need to work with communities, businesses, professionals and the voluntary sector to have a meaningful impact.
We need to ensure that professionals and the public are aware of the signs of trafficking and what to do if they suspect it.
The number of cases referred to the National Referral Mechanism is increasing, which is a promising sign in terms of people spotting the signs of trafficking, but there is still more to do.
That is why I am committed to improving training and raising awareness across the different sectors, of modern slavery and human trafficking.
We will also be asking the private sector to play its part. Companies must be confident that they do not conduct business with suppliers involved in trafficking.
The Home Office will work with businesses and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to prevent the exploitation of workers.
And we will continue work with airline staff to raise awareness of the signs of a possible victim entering or leaving the UK.
Vatican, the Pope
Earlier this month, the Home Secretary attended an international conference on slavery hosted by the Vatican. The two-day event focused on law enforcement and brought together police forces from over 20 countries.
The more we can raise awareness of the fact this evil crime still exists in the 21st century, the more chance we have of consigning it to the history books where it belongs.
We are at the start of a journey. The road is long, but each step we take can make a difference. The challenge before us is not easy, but I am determined to work together to stamp out this evil and disgusting crime.”