Press release

Prime Minister urges international action to stamp out modern slavery

Theresa May encourages international leaders and organisations to work together to stamp out modern slavery worldwide.

Prime Minister Theresa May
  • PM urges other countries to develop model national response
  • Heads of MI5, MI6, GCHQ & Interpol to join new government taskforce
  • £5 million support for anti-trafficking efforts in Nigeria

The Prime Minister sought to galvanise international action to stamp out modern slavery when she brought together leaders, representatives of international organisations and experts in the margins of the UN General Assembly.

The Prime Minister argued that just as we have stepped up international co-operation to crackdown on drugs trafficking and other organised crime, we need a similar co-ordinated effort to eradicate modern slavery. And the PM will urge the group of like-minded countries, priority countries and key practitioners to work together to develop a model national response based upon:

  • strong law enforcement action and legislative framework
  • reducing vulnerability and supporting victims
  • tackling transparency in supply chains
  • effective international cooperation

It is estimated that there are up to 45 million victims of modern slavery worldwide. A cross jurisdiction crime - just like the trafficking of drugs, it is run by criminal groups that evade prosecution because law enforcement face the obvious challenges brought about by criminals networking across borders either physically or via the internet.

That’s why we need world leaders to challenge their respective law enforcement to join forces with others and come down hard on the organised crime groups and free victims of modern day slavery. This will require joint investigations, data and intelligence sharing and multilateral prosecutions. We know that increased co-operation across borders delivers results with long sentences for the perpetrators and freedom with recompense through the seizure of criminal assets for victims.

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 getting support and there are more police investigations into this abhorrent crime.

But there is still much more to do. Across the world an estimated 45 million people are enduring experiences that are simply horrifying in their inhumanity. That’s why I am determined to drive forward international action to eradicate modern slavery.

Just as the criminals cross borders, so 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 and there is no excuse for our law enforcement authorities failing to do this when it comes to modern slavery.

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 am 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.

One year on from the Modern Slavery Act which has set an international benchmark to which other jurisdictions aspire, the government is now pioneering a more co-ordinated policy and operational response with a new taskforce to be chaired by the Prime Minister.

The new taskforce aims to do more to bring perpetrators to justice and to support victims both domestically and overseas with the focus on 4 specific objectives:

  1. bring efforts and resources targeted at modern slavery in line with resources to tackle other forms of organised crime – including by increase investigatory resource, capabilities and intelligence provision – bringing these

  2. increase and improve investigations into the perpetrators of modern slavery, through further education of law enforcement officers on the nature of modern slavery offences; the provision of additional tools to support investigations such as greater data and intelligence; and more effective use of joint investigation teams;

  3. improve successful prosecution levels with further education of prosecuting authorities on modern slavery, and improvements to the quality of supporting evidence.

  4. improve international cooperation to tackle modern slavery.

The membership of the taskforce has crucially been designed to help drive forward the operational response with an unusually high number of intelligence and policing experts joining Ministers around the table.

The heads of all 3 intelligence agencies, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, along with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, the head of Europol, the Secretary General of Interpol, the head of the Gang-masters Licensing Authority, and a number of senior police officers from up and down the country will be invited to attend meetings as required. They will be joined by key practitioners in this field such as Caroline Haughey, a barrister with a proven track record of successfully prosecuting slave drivers.

The taskforce is expected to meet for the first time next month.

Alongside the taskforce, the government has also earmarked £33 million from the UK aid budget to tackle modern slavery in high risk countries, where we know victims are regularly trafficked to the UK.

Today the Prime Minister will announce that at least £5 million will be spent in Nigeria, working with authorities there to strengthen Nigerian anti-trafficking agencies and reduce vulnerability of those at risk of being trafficked, particularly in areas like Edo state, Nigeria’s key trafficking hub. The United Nations has warned that 80% of Nigerian women who arrived in Italy this year will be trafficked into prostitution.

Notes to editors

The attendees at today’s meeting are:

  • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
  • Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi
  • Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari
  • Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg
  • Slovakian President Andrej Kiska
  • Beate Andrees, International Labour Organisation (ILO)
  • Urmila Bhoola, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery
  • Kevin Hyland, independent UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner
  • Nick Grono, Freedom Fund
  • Ima Matul, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking and survivor of slavery

The membership of the new UK government taskforce is as follows:

  • PM (Chair)
  • Home Secretary (Deputy Chair)
  • Justice Secretary
  • Attorney General
  • Development Secretary
  • Communities Secretary
  • Baroness Anelay
  • Permanent Secretary, Home Office
  • Chair, Joint Intelligence Committee
  • Anti-Slavery Commissioner
  • Labour Market Enforcement Director
  • Home Office Chief Scientific Adviser
  • Gangmaster Licensing Authority

Partners to include:

  • Met Police Commissioner
  • Europol
  • Interpol
  • Heads of MI6, MI5, GCHQ
  • British Red Cross
  • Caroline Haughey
  • DG, RUSI
  • Local Government Association
  • Senior policing leads

Slavery and trafficking

The Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index 2016 estimates there are 45.8 million victims of slavery globally and the Home Office estimate that there were 10,000 to 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2013.

In 2014 the International Labour Organization estimated the global trade in humans costs £113.8 billion ($150 billion). In 2013, the Home Office estimated human trafficking for sexual exploitation cost the UK £890 million.

In 2015, 3,266 potential victims of human trafficking were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM); a 40% increase on the number of referrals in 2014.

The UK’s Modern Slavery Fund was announced by the Prime Minister in July and will provide up to £33.5 million over 5 years to projects that will address modern slavery in ODA eligible countries.

The UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 has introduced:

  • slavery and trafficking offences, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment
  • slavery and trafficking reparation orders, which encourage the courts to use seized assets to compensate survivors
  • a duty for statutory agencies like local authorities to notify the Home Office of all children and young people under 18 who are victims or potential victims of modern slavery or trafficking
  • a statutory defence for victims of trafficking or slavery who are forced to commit crime
  • a requirement for businesses operating in the United Kingdom with a turnover in excess of £36 million a year to make an annual statement on their actions to address modern slavery in their supply chains
Published 20 September 2016