Rights of victims must be at heart of Modern Slavery Bill - Archbishop

APArchbishop Justin Welby says the bill is 'pioneering', but must include greater protections for victims of modern slavery.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has welcomed the publication of a draft bill on modern slavery and its accompanying report on Tuesday.

Statistics suggest that up to 27 million people are living in conditions of slavery across the globe, facing sexual exploitation or forced labour. An estimated two million fall victim to sexual trafficking each year, and a further 20,000 are forced to give up an organ.

Although it is often assumed that such exploitation is limited to developing nations, recent figures indicate that there could be as many as 10,000 slaves living in the UK alone.

Last month, Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis demonstrated their commitment to joining the fight against modern slavery and gave their support to the Global Freedom Network, a groundbreaking ecumenical initiative to combat modern slavery and human trafficking.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the Archbishop has expressed his pleasure at the publication of the draft bill and a report written by the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Modern Slavery, which is made up of MPs and peers from the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and was commissioned by Home Secretary Theresa May.

"I strongly welcome the report and draft bill," Archbishop Welby said.

"We owe a debt of gratitude to the committee's members for their efforts, and I would like to extend particular thanks to my colleague Alistair Redfern, the Bishop of Derby, for his participation in the committee's work.

"I very much hope that the Home Office, as it prepares to publish its own bill on Modern Slavery, will take the committee's recommendations extremely seriously. These include putting the rights of victims at the heart of the bill; including effective provisions to recognise the increased vulnerability of children; and a clause that would encourage quoted companies to do more to ensure that their supply chains are free from child labour."

The report underlines the importance of the four Ps - protection, prevention, prosecution and partnership - and calls for the appointment of an independent anti-slavery commissioner to oversee the work done to tackle slavery across the UK.

It argues that the bill needs strengthening if it is to accomplish its significant task.

"We applaud the stated aims of this bill – and the home secretary's wish to take the battle to the slave masters and traffickers – but we are concerned that this bill as currently drafted will not achieve what it must," said Baroness Butler-Sloss, a member of the committee.

"Unless and until the protection of victims, and the provision of support and services to them, are put on a statutory footing at the heart of this legislation, there is a risk that we will turn victims into criminals. Apart from the fact that this would be morally wrong, it is also self-defeating," she contends.

Earlier this year Labour MP Frank Field – chair of the committee – declared that Britain is "on the cusp of a great historical advance", and argued that the bill is a "huge historical opportunity" for Prime Minister David Cameron to lead the UK in the fight against modern slavery. He also suggested that the PM has a "moral responsibility" to ensure that victims of modern slavery are fully cared for and protected.

Yesterday, Field reiterated this belief, contending of the suggestions made in the new report: "The shift to the focus on victims is not only the morally right thing to do in and of itself, it is essential if we are to get the prosecutions necessary to try to end this evil.

"The world is watching: we have to get this right."

The Archbishop added his hope that the bill will be passed through Parliament as quickly as possible.

"This pioneering bill sets a high standard for Governments around the world, who will be watching to see how our Government handles the issue of modern slavery," he said.

"It is vital that it seizes this opportunity to continue to set a gold standard that others can follow.

"The launch of the Global Freedom Network last month showed that people of faith are determined to contribute to combating modern slavery and human trafficking. It is vital that we all work together to tackle this modern day evil so that all people live in freedom and dignity," he concluded.