I would like to thank the Thomson Reuters Foundation and International New York Times for organising and hosting the Trust Women Conference.
It is a great honour to be invited to speak to such a distinguished international gathering of women and men, all working together to forge ideas, strategies and commitments to empower women, and to defend their rights across the world.
Can I first say I am proud of the effort being made by the Foreign Secretary to give prominence to women’s rights in foreign policy: from their inclusion in peace processes to his ground-breaking initiative to end warzone rape and sexual violence.
With this initiative, he has shown how it is possible to use the UK’s influence to rally almost the entire world to tackle a problem that it has been unwilling to confront. This campaign has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of millions of men, women and children.
That is what this conference is all about: ‘taking action’. This conference motto does strike a deep chord with me; never has action been more urgently needed to tackle modern slavery.
We will have all read, and been appalled by, the news referenced earlier of three women had been kept imprisoned for 30 years in horrific conditions, in London in the 21st century.
And, last week, seventeen, seventeen – people were rescued in Leeds, in the North of England. They were forced to live in poor housing conditions, with no access to local support services, and little, if any, income to exist on. And we all know that there are countless more examples of this hidden crime at this very second, in this very country.
So, taking your motto to heart, I want to talk today about the UK government’s efforts to wipe out modern slavery; a specific form of abuse of women’s rights and denial of their liberty. This horrific crime is a key priority for me personally and is also a priority for ministers across government.
Modern slavery is a brutal crime which knows no boundaries and does not discriminate on gender, age, creed, culture or race. Traffickers and slave masters exploit whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.
It is impossible to know the true scale of modern slavery in the UK, and indeed the rest of the world. It is a hidden crime and many victims suffer in silence. We do know that last year nearly 1,200 potential victims of human trafficking were referred to the UK’s central body for the collection of this information, the National Referral Mechanism - a number 25% higher than 2011 and set to increase.
We also know that in two-thirds of cases, the victims were women, often abused physically and sexually in the course of their enslavement. This is simply unacceptable in modern day Britain. We will not and cannot let this continue.
I am determined to do more. That is why I have committed to introducing a Modern Slavery Bill to strengthen our response and reduce the number of victims of this abhorrent crime. This flagship Bill will be the first of its kind in Europe, it sends a strong message, both domestically and internationally, that the UK is determined to put an end to modern slavery.
The Bill will clarify legislation, increase sentences for slave drivers and enable the courts to restrict activity that puts others at risk. This will mean that more traffickers are identified, disrupted and brought to justice. It will also create an important new role – an Anti-Slavery Commissioner – who will galvanise our collective response to these terrible crimes.
We will need to make sure that the Bill will have the impact we want, and I am keen to hear from the front-line workers who see the reality of trafficking everyday. They know what will really help victims and stop traffickers and that’s why I have asked Frank Field, a highly respected Parliamentarian, to lead a series of evidence sessions over the course of the autumn to hear from experts, on how we can make this Bill really work.
National Crime Agency
In addition to the Bill, earlier this autumn, I launched the National Crime Agency. Organised criminals are often behind modern slavery, and the National Crime Agency has created a strengthened central focus for the UK’s response to this disgusting crime.
Utilising its enhanced intelligence capabilities, the National Crime Agency will be able to identify the routes and the methods used by human traffickers. Working across law enforcement agencies – in the UK and internationally – the National Crime Agency will relentlessly pursue these organised criminal gangs. The new agency will also improve our international response to human trafficking, which is critical to stopping this horrific trade in human beings.
If we are to fight individuals who wish to enslave others, we have to work collaboratively across law enforcement agencies, and with the international community.
These measures focus on improving the law enforcement response to modern slavery, and, this is being done with the victims very much in mind. Indeed, at the Home Office, I have set up a Modern Slavery Unit, who will be dedicated to strengthening our efforts on this important issue.
The new Unit will include police officers, as I believe that by pursuing organised crime gangs we will be: stopping them at their source, controlling the routes that traffickers use, and tackling the demand for these illegal services. The result of which will be: more arrests, more prosecutions, but most importantly, more people released from slavery and more prevented from ever entering it in the first place.
Legislation is only one way of combating this. So, beyond the Bill I want to emphasise the importance of training, of awareness and of other non-legislative actions which will make a fundamental difference to how we tackle human trafficking and modern day slavery, and help those victims so desperately in need of our help.
We will be expanding our prevention efforts in source countries to alert potential victims and to disrupt the monsters who exploit them. We will work with foreign governments to strengthen their knowledge and understanding of modern slavery and empower them to stop it.
And, we will be lobbying for changes in countries’ laws and practices that allow this crime to flourish. There is much we can do internationally. I have asked Anthony Steen, CEO of the Human Trafficking Foundation, to report back to me following a series of international visits on how we can work multi-laterally to strengthen the global response to Modern Slavery.
I hope that you can see that my government is seriously committed to developing a comprehensive approach and response to tackle this growing evil. However, this is not an easy task. Addressing human trafficking and modern slavery brings with it great complexities and challenges and I believe it is important to be honest about these.
But at the heart of everything we do, we must remind ourselves of the vulnerable men, women and children who are being enslaved against their will.
Being a victim of this heinous crime is unique. Perversely, victims do not always recognise that they are victims or that they have been trafficked. Victims are bought and sold as commodities, kept in servitude and they have little chance of escape. Because they are often forced into a life of crime, they fear not just their traffickers but the people who should be there to help them – the police and the authorities.
When victims are identified, we have found that there are a number of issues that often need to be addressed. Most have been subject to horrendous psychological, physical or sexual abuse. They may have been betrayed by their family or friends who were involved in their enslavement. And in some cases, they may be worried that their family or friends will be in danger if they speak to the authorities. This can lead to victims missing out on vital support that is available to them.
The needs and interests of the victim
That is why at the heart of tackling this heinous crime, must be the needs and interest of the victim. What choices the victim can make and what we can do to support them.
The National Referral Mechanism, or the NRM, which I mentioned earlier, is a key to this. It was set up to ensure that victims of human trafficking and modern slavery are identified and given the support they need. I want to make sure that the NRM is operating as effectively and as supportively as possible. That is why I will be reviewing the operation of the NRM, including its structure and decision making process.
If an adult is identified as a potential victim of human trafficking or modern slavery, they are given access to tailored government-funded support and assistance which is coordinated by The Salvation Army. A victim is required to have a minimum of 30 days of this. However, we are funding an additional 15 days on top of that. But of course, we need to keep looking at the right length of time for this. At the end of this time, a final decision – known as a conclusive decision – is made on their victim status. Since this government came into power, more victims have received support than ever before, helping them to recover from their terrible ordeal.
Where the victim is a child, local authorities have well-established child support arrangements and a statutory duty under the Children Act 2004 to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children in need of protection, including trafficked children.
We have put in place a major programme of reform to transform the care system. We want to see: stable permanent placements; high quality education and health support; and better support to care leavers as they make the transition to adulthood. We will ensure that as we implement these programmes we take account of the particular needs of trafficked children.
We will also be doing more to help victims return home to ensure they resettle in the best way possible, and in a way that mitigates the risk of re-trafficking.
What more can we do together?
This is what the UK government has committed to do. What more can we do together?
We want the private sector to play its part. Companies must be confident that they do not conduct business with suppliers involved in trafficking. The Home Office will work with businesses and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to prevent the exploitation of workers.
But I would also like companies to take the initiative themselves. Household names such as Ford, Coco-Cola, Microsoft and Hilton are already doing so. And, I would like this list of businesses to grow and grow. I do not think any of us want to rely on legislation. We would all like to see immediate action. We would like a commitment from each and every business in this room to look into their supply chain and make sure that there are no instances of labour exploitation.
The travel industry also has a role to play. With the help of Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook, we have developed a human trafficking training package for flight attendants, who will be more empowered to report unusual behaviour and I would strongly encourage others in the travel industry to follow the excellent example set by these two companies.
We urge the voluntary sector to play their part too. It is absolutely vital that we are all joined-up, that means that third-sector organisations must look at how best to share intelligence with the police, for the sake of current victims, for the sake of future victims and for the sake of justice.
This is why it is absolutely vital that there is an Anti-Slavery Commissioner to ensure that everyone is doing as much as they can to cut Modern Slavery. We need a more cohesive and joined-up approach, leading to better outcomes thanks to the efforts of the private sector, charity sector, but also to frontline staff in law enforcement, health and local government. This will ensure all who are involved in combating this evil are doing all they can to reduce the number of victims.
Serious and Organised Crime Strategy
A few weeks ago the Home Office published its Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, in which tackling human trafficking was a key component. However, given the importance of the issue and to demonstrate my commitment and the commitment of this government, I can announce today that I will be publishing a new strategic action plan in the spring that sets out what we are doing across government to address this issue.
The steps we are taking will help this country reach the point where we never ignore this evil, never allow slave masters and those who look to exploit other women, men and children to think that the UK is a safe space for them to operate in and never allow the needs of victims to go ignored.
We have the tenacity and focus to get us where we want to be. I urge all who are involved in combating modern slavery to continue doing the excellent work you are doing, but to also work more closely with Government, and law enforcement agencies. Because together we can do so much more.
I know there are people here from all over the world and as I said earlier, no-one is immune from this disease. But we in the UK are working on a cure and I’d urge you all to go back to your countries and call upon your governments to do the same.
I am in this for the long term. Each step that we take contributes to the eventual eradication of slavery from our country.
Together, we’re going to shine a light on slavery and its evil. And the world is going to be a better place for it.