In an opinion piece for openDemocracy, researchers Rose Broad and David Gadd explore how the U.K.’s controversial Nationality and Borders Bill’s stated aim to “break the business model” of traffickers and organized crime falls flat when confronted with the truth behind trafficking offender statistics.
Blurred line between victim and offender
They interviewed men and women convicted of smuggling and modern slavery offenses in the U.K., the majority of whom were serving sentences up to 12 years. What they found was that the majority were not profiting from organized crime and that the line between victim and offender was blurred.
Some were themselves victims of exploitation, others had been convicted for falling foul of immigration requirements. Those interviewed who had been involved in trafficking for sexual exploitation claimed that they had in fact been working with consensual sex workers. Two women had been convicted of brothel-keeping though the reality is that they had been working on the same premises together as a safety measure.
Big crime bosses?
Fundamentally, the complexity of modern slavery and the way we conceptualize modern slavery crimes means that offenders are not a “coherent group” with a monolithic identity. Not all offenders are big crime bosses or people who set out to commit an offence. Rather, a combination of precarity and a lack of choices may force someone into a situation where, under the law, they have become modern slavery offenders without intending to be.
The unpalatable truth is that modern slavery discourse has so thoroughly blinded us that we now need to speak to those cast as ‘evil perpetrators’ to appreciate how UK policies enable severe exploitation by pushing vulnerable people to become dependent on people who are thoroughly unsuited to caring for them. As it stands, the Borders and Nationality Bill will do little to rectify this major oversight. It will compound the plights of vulnerable people, some whom will feel they have little choice but to exploit others in order to survive their extremely precarious predicaments.
In its current state, the Nationality and Borders Bill will cause serious harm to modern slavery survivors while doing nothing to address the structural drivers of modern slavery and human trafficking.
We are urgently calling on the Home Office to remove part five of the Bill and treat modern slavery as a human rights issue, not an immigration issue.
Join the campaign calling for guaranteed statutory support for modern slavery survivors in the U.K.