Britain must be world leader in ending slavery - Frank Field

MP Frank Field discusses the steps needed to ensure that the bill is "world-breaking"

MP Frank Field gave an address in partnership with Stop the Traffik last night in which he shared the current endeavours being undertaken to ensure that Britain creates a groundbreaking anti-slavery bill.

The Modern Slavery Bill is currently being considered by the UK Parliament.

Field, a Labour MP for Birkenhead, was asked to head up a team commissioned by Home Secretary Theresa May to produce an evidence review of the initial draft, the resulting report of which was published last December.

It argues for a set of reforms which will help to fight "the insidious curse of slavery", it says in its opening statement.

"This report has put forward a number of legislative recommendations, which the Panel hopes will be adopted in the new Modern Slavery Bill, and a wider set of policy proposals, which the Government will scrutinise and consider implementing as part of its recently announced Action Plan, as well as through the Home Office's NRM reform review."

The modern slavery and human trafficking trade is currently worth at least $32bn each year, and is rapidly growing. EU estimates suggest there are almost 900,000 people forced to work in slave labour conditions in Europe, and a number of those are here in the UK.

Though in the days of William Wilberforce 200 years ago slavery was out in the open, today it is far more difficult to identify.

"Victims of modern slavery are hidden in plain sight, often trapped by forces more subtle than lock and key," the report notes.

Field and his associates therefore have a huge task in suggesting amendments to a bill that sets out to tackle a colossal, yet largely invisible, problem.

Significant steps towards progress have been made in the past twelve months, however. Field began his address by noting that "had Steve [Chalke, founder of Stop the Traffik] called this meeting a year ago, I don't think anyone would have thought there was a possibility of a modern slavery bill...the idea of the government moving so quickly in this area, I think most of you would have thought was beyond our wildest dreams".

However, Parliament is indeed pushing for a new bill to come into effect, to put an end to what Pope Francis has referred to as a "heinous crime".

The recommendations made by the review committee aim to improve the identification of victims of modern slavery, and the practices by which they are captured and held, to increase the number of prosecutions and convictions, and to ensure the provision of adequate support to victims following their escape or release.

In his speech last night, Field gave five recommendations that he and his team believe will "radically improve" the current draft bill.

  1. The entire anti-slavery movement must become more victim-focussed. Victims must know that they are treasured, cared for, and relationships of trust with authority figures must be built. They must be made to feel entirely safe to testify against their captors.
  2. Child victims of modern slavery must have a special position within the bill.
  3. The role of a Commissioner to lead the anti-slavery movement in Britain, and ultimately the world, must be made clear.
  4. The assets of alleged slave-drivers must be frozen during investigations, so that in the event of their prosecution, the assets can be used to provide compensation for victims.
  5. Manufacturers' supply chains must become transparent, to better identify where trafficking is entering the market and to hold businesses accountable.

Field assured that he would engage Theresa May with these issues, "not to score cheap political points, but to make Britain a world leader in slavery once again".

He noted that this is a "huge historical opportunity" for Prime Minister David Cameron to lead the UK in the fight against modern slavery, and suggested that the PM also has a "moral responsibility" to ensure that victims of modern slavery are cared for and protected.

"We are on the cusp of a great historical advance in this country," he declared.

"The government have moved tremendously fast in less than a year, and we have a bill. Our job now is not to just congratulate the government...but also to suggest those extra steps to take it from a really good bill, to an exceptional bill."

A Q&A session following his speech was held, for which Field was joined by one of his advisors, Tim Weedon, and Conservative MP Caroline Spelman.

Questions were raised about how trust can effectively built between victims and local authorities, what is being done to increase legal aid, and how people can be made more aware of what modern day slavery looks like.

One contributor noted how the fitting it was to meet in the Oasis Centre to discuss the issue, given that the spire of Oasis Church Waterloo was donated by Abraham Lincoln's family in 1876 in gratitude for the parishioners' support in the battle for the emancipation of slaves in North America.

Perhaps the most impassioned response, however, came from Ruth Dearnley, CEO of Stop the Traffik, who thanked the crowd gathered for their active work against modern slavery.

"Some people say to me about Stop the Traffik: 'Well what does 'stop' look like?'" she said.

"It looks like this. A room full of passion."

Dearnley underlined the necessity of addressing the system of modern slavery as a whole, as well as protecting those individuals who find themselves caught up in it.

"For this bill to live up to its name of anti-slavery, it's absolutely right that victims are addressed and cared for and given dignity. But for every victim who is rescued and addressed it will not stop the traffick," she asserted.

"We need to view systemically how trafficking is working. So our plea is that it doesn't just get siphoned off, and deposited into the role of a Commissioner ... It needs to be systemically within this bill to address a system that is founded on greed.

"It needs to be addressed by us, generously working together," she finished.

UK citizens are invited to formally submit suggestions and comments about the Modern Slavery Bill to the Review Committee before 10 February. For more details click here