Within the margins of the recent UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Theresa May sought to galvanise international action on stamping out modern slavery when bringing together political leaders, representatives of international organisations and a series of experts.
The Prime Minister argued that, just as we’ve stepped up international co-operation designed to crack down on drugs trafficking and other organised crime, we need a similarly co-ordinated effort to eradicate modern slavery. Theresa May duly urged the group of like-minded country representatives and key practitioners to work together on developing a model national response based upon strong law enforcement action and a legislative framework, reducing vulnerability and supporting victims, tackling transparency in supply chains and ensuring effective international co-operation.
It’s estimated that there are up to 45 million victims of modern slavery worldwide. A cross-jurisdiction crime just like the trafficking of drugs, it’s run by criminal groups who can evade prosecution because law enforcement faces the obvious challenges brought about by criminals networking across borders either physically or via the Internet.
That’s why there’s a need for world leaders to challenge their respective law enforcement agencies to join forces with others and come down hard on the organised crime groups in order to free the victims of modern day slavery. This will require joint investigations, data and intelligence sharing and multilateral prosecutions.
Increased co-operation across borders delivers results, with long sentences ensuing for the perpetrators and, for the victims, freedom with recompense by way of the seizure of criminal assets.
Speaking ahead of the meeting in New York, the Prime Minister said: “The UK is leading the world with our efforts to stamp out modern slavery. Just over a year since the Modern Slavery Act came into force, convictions are up, more victims are receiving support and there are more police investigations into this abhorrent crime, but there’s still much more work to be done. Across the world, an estimated 45 million people are enduring experiences that are simply horrifying in their inhumanity. That’s why I’m absolutely determined to drive forward international action to eradicate modern slavery.”
May added: “Just as the criminals cross borders, so too we need a radical new approach that crosses borders – sharing intelligence and joining up investigations. This is standard in the case of drugs trafficking and the trade in illegal firearms. There’s no excuse for our law enforcement authorities failing to do this when it comes to modern slavery.”
In conclusion, the Prime Minister observed: “We owe it to the innocent men, women and children who are being tricked into a life of hard labour and abuse to rid our world of this evil. Just as it was Britain that took an historic stand to ban slavery two centuries ago, I’m determined that the United Kingdom will once again lead the way in defeating modern slavery and preserving the freedoms and values that have defined our country for generations.”
Modern Slavery Act: one year on
One year on from the Modern Slavery Act which has set an international benchmark to which other jurisdictions now aspire, the Government is pioneering a more co-ordinated policy and operational response with a new Task Force to be chaired by the Prime Minister.
*Bring efforts and resources targeted at modern slavery into line with resources to tackle other forms of organised crime (including by increasing investigatory resources, capabilities and intelligence provisions)
*Increase and improve investigations into the perpetrators of modern slavery through the further education of law enforcement officers on the nature of modern slavery offences, the provision of additional tools (such as greater data and intelligence) to support investigations and the more effective and efficient use of joint investigation teams
*Improve successful prosecution levels with further education of prosecuting authorities on modern slavery, and improvements to the quality of supporting evidence
*Improve international co-operation aimed at tackling modern slavery
Crucially, membership of the Task Force has been designed to help drive forward the operational response with an unusually high number of intelligence and policing experts joining Government ministers around the table.
The heads of all three intelligence agencies – namely MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – along with the Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner, the head of Europol, the Secretary General of Interpol, the head of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and a number of senior police officers from up and down the country will be invited to attend meetings as and when required. They will be joined by key practitioners in this field, among them Caroline Haughey, a barrister with a proven track record of successfully prosecuting slave drivers.
The Task Force is expected to meet for the first time next month.
Alongside the Task Force, the Government has also earmarked £33 million from the UK’s aid budget to tackle modern slavery in high risk countries from where victims are regularly trafficked to home shores. Theresa May has announced that at least £5 million will be spent in Nigeria, working with authorities there to strengthen Nigerian anti-trafficking agencies and reduce the vulnerability of those at risk of being trafficked, particularly in areas like Edo state (Nigeria’s key trafficking hub).
Representation from RUSI
The Royal United Services Institute’s (RUSI) director general Dr Karin von Hippel has been invited to join the new UK Government Task Force.
RUSI intends to bring its wide-ranging expertise to the conversation. In particular, and consistent with the Government’s focus on identifying and disrupting the finances of modern slavery, RUSI’s dedicated Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies is reviewing the extent to which engagement with the financial sector can enhance law enforcement responses and reverse the current low risk/high profit business model.