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Tackling the increase in modern slavery

Tiffany Cloynes sets out how local authorities can help prevent modern slavery, including through the actions and approaches that they take as purchasers of services, and looks at the latest Government initiatives to tackle the problem.

The London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee recently sent London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime recommendations for action to be taken to address the problems of modern slavery and human trafficking.  Although the Committee acknowledged that the Mayor had supported campaigns against modern slavery, it was concerned at the vast increase in the number of incidents of modern slavery and human trafficking in London in the five years from 2013 to 2018, as shown by statistics from the Metropolitan Police. This is the latest report of an increase in modern slavery. Last year the Local Government Association reported that referrals made by local authorities to the national referral mechanism of potential child victims of modern slavery had increased by 800% between 2014 and 2018.

The ongoing prevalence of modern slavery and human trafficking is a cause for concern and communities will be keen to eradicate it from their areas. Local authorities have a role to play in this through their duty under section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to notify if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a person may be a victim of slavery or human trafficking. Although the high increase in notifications in recent years is disturbing in showing the extent of slavery and trafficking, it indicates that local authorities are being diligent and robust in complying with their duty.

Local authorities also have the potential to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking through the actions and approaches that they take as purchasers of services. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 imposes an obligation on commercial organisations to publish statements about the steps that they take to ensure that slavery and trafficking is not taking place in their own businesses or in their supply chains. This is intended to achieve transparency in supply chains, so ensuring that incidents do not go undetected and that purchasers of services are able to see how much effort their suppliers are making to monitor and take action over the risk of slavery and trafficking occurring. Local authorities should make sure that when they procure services, supplies or works, they make full use of their potential to check what action potential suppliers are taking to achieve transparency in their supply chains.

Whilst the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and legislation made under it makes some provision for tackling modern slavery, there has been some recognition that amendments to legislation and new practical initiatives could prove helpful in preventing modern slavery from occurring and tackling incidents when they arise. The UK Government commissioned a review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which looked at the subjects of the independent anti-slavery commissioner, transparency in supply chains, independent child trafficking advocates, and the legal application of the Act. A report of the review made several recommendations for changes to the way that slavery and trafficking is tackled in the UK. The Government has indicated an intention to take forward some of these, including:

  • The Government keeping a list of organisations that are in the scope of section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which requires the publication of a modern slavery statement.
  • The Government revising statutory guidance on transparency in supply chains. 
  • The creation of a central registry of modern slavery statements.
  • Public sector organisations being brought within the scope of the duty in section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to produce modern slavery statements.
  • The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner commissioning research into how consumer attitudes to modern slavery can be influenced.

The publication by the Anti-Slavery Commissioner of her strategic plan for 2019 to 2021, which identifies four priorities of improving victim care and support; supporting law enforcement and prosecutions; focusing on prevention; and getting value from research and innovation will be a useful source of reference for local authorities. The Commissioner has observed that more needs to be done to tackle the systemic issues that allow modern slavery and human trafficking to thrive.

Local authorities are faced with addressing the problems of slavery and trafficking in the context of dealing with many other demands on their resources. Local authorities have many responsibilities and many people make use of the services that they provide. They regularly need to take decisions which involve managing budgets efficiently to provide effective services and to achieve continuous improvement in the discharge of their functions. In these circumstances, addressing the increasing occurrence of incidents of slavery and trafficking might seem a daunting requirement but progress on this could help local authorities to achieve a significant impact on the well-being of their communities.

Tiffany Cloynes is a partner at Geldards. She can be contacted on 01332 378  or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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