Authored article

Defeating modern slavery: Theresa May article

The Prime Minister wrote an article for the Sunday Telegraph on how her government will lead the way in defeating modern slavery.

A year ago the Modern Slavery Act that I brought forward as Home Secretary came into force.

The first legislation of its kind in Europe, this act has delivered tough new penalties to put slave masters behind bars where they belong, with life sentences for the worst offenders.

It has created a vital policing tool to stop anyone convicted of trafficking from travelling to a country where they are known to have exploited vulnerable people in the past.

It has delivered enhanced protection and support for victims and a world-leading transparency requirement on businesses to show that modern slavery is not taking place in their companies or their supply chains.

But we must not stop there. Just because we have some legislation does not mean that the problem is solved. So as Prime Minister, I am setting up the first ever government task force on modern slavery.

Together with my successor as Home Secretary, we will hold regular meetings in Downing Street with every relevant department present to get a real grip of this issue right across Whitehall and to co-ordinate and drive further progress in the battle against this cruel exploitation.

First, I want to make sure that the act itself is having the intended effect, so I commissioned an independent review from Caroline Haughey, a barrister with a proven track record of successfully prosecuting slave drivers. She finds that there has been good progress in the first year of the act, with 289 modern slavery offences prosecuted in 2015 alone and a 40% rise in the number of victims identified by the State.

But she says there is still further to go on raising awareness of these despicable crimes, improving training for those in our criminal justice system and strengthening support for victims, and I want the task force to help drive work on all three.

She also finds that the response of local police forces can be too patchy. For example, between April 2015 and March 2016, 6 of the 43 territorial police forces did not record a single modern slavery crime. So I am commissioning an HMIC Inspection to make sure that all police forces treat this crime with the priority it deserves.

Second, we must work collaboratively with law-enforcement agencies across the world to track and stop these pernicious gangs who operate across borders and jurisdictions.

The new Anti-Slavery Commissioner that I appointed, Kevin Hyland, is the only such commissioner in the world and he is critical in our fight to stop criminal gangs exploiting innocent men, women and children.

Through his work collaborating with other countries we are looking at intelligence flows. This has helped us uncover criminal gangs creating twinned towns of modern slavery between Britain and other nations.

Modern slavery is international and requires an international response. So rather than chasing individual criminals in Britain as they are reported, we need a radically new, comprehensive approach to defeating this vile and systematic international business model at its source and in transit, and we need to flex the muscle of all parts of the UK government and collaborate with international partners.

This will be an important focus for the new task force because modern slavery will never be stopped if our police, borders and immigration agencies work in domestic silos.

Third, we played the leading role in getting the eradication of modern slavery into the Sustainable Development Goals, and I want Britain, as a bold country confident in its values, to continue to lead this fight on the global stage.

As part of this we will be using over £33 million from our aid budget to create a 5-year International Modern Slavery Fund focused on high-risk countries, where we know victims are regularly trafficked to the UK.

It is hard to comprehend that such sickening and inhuman crimes are lurking in the shadows of our country. But the most recent estimates suggest that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims in the UK alone and over 45 million across the world.

From nail bars and car washes to sheds and rundown caravans, people are enduring experiences that are simply horrifying in their inhumanity.

Vulnerable people who have travelled long distances believing they were heading for legitimate jobs are finding they have been duped, forced into hard labour, and then locked up and abused. Innocent individuals are being tricked into prostitution, often by people they thought they could trust. Children are being made to pick-pocket on the streets and steal from cash machines. Others, like a 7-year-old who was found and rescued in Wood Green, are held as domestic slaves, while some children are raped, beaten and passed from abuser to abuser for profit.

One woman I met had come to England as a student but was forced into prostitution, imprisoned in a house in south London and regularly abused, including being threatened at gunpoint. When she finally escaped to north London, she was picked up by another gang that systematically exploited her and raped many others in a squalid high-street brothel.

These crimes must be stopped and the victims of modern slavery must go free. This is the great human rights issue of our time, and as Prime Minister I am determined that we will make it a national and international mission to rid our world of this barbaric evil.

Just as it was Britain that took an historic stand to ban slavery two centuries ago, so Britain will once again lead the way in defeating modern slavery and preserving the freedoms and values that have defined our country for generations.