By Kate Castenson, HTC associate
The UK’s Draft Modern Slavery Bill currently before the Parliament is an ambitious document but has several flaws, as identified by the recently released parliamentary report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill. Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, highlighted the importance of this legislation when he declared, “in the 19th century, British politicians sought to abolish the international slave trade…Their hard-fought victory remains one of our Parliament’s finest achievements. We must not betray that legacy – or the victims of slavery.” As Parliament considers revisions to the bill, it is useful to evaluate the bill’s strengths and weaknesses, as the anti-trafficking movement needs additional models of effective legislation.
A few aspects of the Committee’s report on the bill are worth highlighting:
Victims: Victim services are not explicitly identified in the original bill or the Committee’s report. The report concludes there should be a “statutory defence of being a victim of modern slavery,” since victims should not be criminalized for crimes they committed as a result of being trafficked. The original bill also recommends the government provide victims with essential services. Despite this, the Committee proposes the Secretary of State establish the “minimum standards of assistance and services which shall be provided for victims.” While this approach allows for some flexibility of service provision, there is the danger that it could become an unfunded mandate.
Anti-slavery Commissioner: The report recommends that the proposed Anti-slavery Commissioner emphasize victim protection. The Commissioner should serve as a “focal point for the collection, compilation, analysis and dissemination of information and statistics.” The Human Trafficking Center supports governments’ efforts to place research at the center of their anti-trafficking efforts.
Supply chain transparency: The report notes that voluntary supply chain transparency is not enough to ensure that companies are not using forced labor. The report proposes legislation on supply chain transparency that would require companies to include modern slavery in their annual strategic reports. This reporting would “…include explanations of how the company has, with respect to modern slavery: a) verified its supply chains to evaluate and address risks; b) audited suppliers; c) certified goods and services purchased from suppliers; d) maintained internal accountability standards, and e) trained staff.” Promoting supply chain transparency as a method of tackling human trafficking deserves careful consideration. This addition is especially relevant in the U.S. because of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010, which the British report references as an example of supply chain transparency legislation. More research is needed regarding the effectiveness of this legislation and its applicability to other countries.
Asset recovery: The report proposes strengthening the language on asset recovery so assets of suspected traffickers can be frozen “…at the earliest possible stage in an investigation, and rarely, if ever, more than 24 hours after arrest.” Asset forfeiture is one way of hampering the ability of traffickers to function and should be utilized in a government’s anti-trafficking efforts.
Migrant domestic workers: The report references the April 2012 visa regulations on migrant domestic workers in the UK that tie them to one employer. According to Human Rights Watch, these regulations trap exploited migrant domestic workers who face deportation if they leave their abusive employer. Legislation should consider how to implement protections for this and other vulnerable groups.
The weaknesses of the UK’s Draft Modern Slavery Bill point to the need for a more vigorous discussion in all countries that are party to the UN’s Palermo Protocol on human trafficking about how to address human trafficking through legislation. Not only is this good policy, but States Parties to the Palermo Protocol must “adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish as criminal offences the conduct set forth in article 3 of this Protocol…” (see Article 5). While the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has a model law against trafficking in persons, the debate about the British draft law should encourage legal advocates to re-examine the model law for missing elements or existing elements which should be changed.
As the parliamentary report suggests, the evolving nature of human trafficking necessitates periodic review of the relevant laws. Lawmakers, NGOs and anti-trafficking advocates with legal expertise can strengthen existing legislation in their respective countries and propose new, stronger legislation where it is lacking.
What are your thoughts on what should be included in effective human trafficking legislation?