The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has published his Annual Report for 2015-2016.
It is estimated that there are currently around 13,000 victims trapped in modern slavery in the UK. In 2015, 117 offenders were prosecuted for modern slavery offences, 19% higher than the 98 prosecuted in 2014.
Amongst other things, the Report highlights the role that the private sector can play in tackling modern slavery, within the UK and across the globe. Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act, with its public reporting requirement for large commercial organisations, has forced those organisations to consider, often for the first time, the topic of slavery in their own businesses and in their supply chains.
The Modern Slavery Act has undoubtedly pushed modern slavery up the agenda and into the boardrooms of large commercial organisations. However, this is just the first step. Section 54 is a transparency provision designed to open the door to consumer and investor pressure on organisations to produce slavery and human trafficking statements that both comply with the Act’s obligations and point to decisive action being taken, as opposed to merely being a ‘tick box’ exercise.
The Report also sets out some of the practical actions taken by the Commissioner. For example, he wrote to Kia and Volvo to ascertain what actions they were taking to eradicate slave labour from their supply chains following Al Jazeera’s investigation into the use of slave labour in car washes in Kent. He has also engaged with tea retailers over reports of exploitation in tea plantations in Assam, India.
Organised crime has moved into the labour market at home and abroad. The Commissioner is leading the fight back and this topic is going to become more prominent in the year ahead.