Alarmingly, the United Kingdom is home to at least 130,000 trafficking victims, estimates Anti-Slavery International. As the country’s modern slavery problem worsens, experts are pointing to government laws and policies as a key driver of exploitation and abuse.
The Modern Slavery Act is insufficient
Current U.K. laws fail to prevent and adequately address exploitation. The Modern Slavery Act, while a big step forward when it was first introduced in 2015, does not address human rights abuses and environmental destruction in value chains, aside from requesting companies report on forced labor.
In fact, even the reporting requirement is falling by the wayside. The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (Cips) found that only 29% of organizations submitted a modern slavery statement as required.
The public bodies designed to oversee labor regulations are hugely under-resourced, resulting in weak enforcement. Unscrupulous businesses take advantage of the lack of oversight to exploit workers.
The role of the cost of living crisis
As prices soar and poverty worsens, the risk of modern slavery rises for many people across the U.K.
Justine Carter, Director of the anti-slavery organisation Unseen, told Euronews:
We’re seeing more and more people on the edge because they don’t have the kind of income they once had. They might turn to something they ordinarily wouldn’t do as they become desperate.
Analysis from the New Economics Foundation suggests that over a third of families will not be able to pay for essential such as food and clothing by April 2024.
When people lack the means to cover their basis needs, they are much more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation, as they feel they have no other option than to accept unfair and dangerous working arrangements.
Although the U.K. government is not single-handedly responsible for the cost of living crisis, it could be doing much more to reduce the impact on the most vulnerable.
The hostile environment
But perhaps the most flagrant way in which the U.K. government is actively worsening the country’s trafficking problem is through its immigration policies.
Since 2012, the government has been fostering a so-called “hostile environment” which aims to make life as difficult as possible for people who have travelled to the country without the right permissions or documents.
A result of the “culture of fear” created by the ruling Conservative Party is that people in this situation are often too afraid to report exploitative employers or speak out about other rights abuses in case they are arrested or deported.
This strategy has been widely criticized as ineffective and cruel. And yet, the government continues to pursue increasingly extreme policies, the most recent of which are laid out in the upcoming ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ (dubbed as the ‘Refugee Ban Bill’), which aims to remove people who arrive in the country through irregular channels.
Freedom United and other experts believe that this bill would worsen the already desperate situation of trafficking and exploitation in the U.K. Kate Roberts from the NGO Focus on Labour Exploitation told Euronews:
Exploiters will be able to threaten people not to speak out, warning them that if they go to the authorities they could be detained indefinitely or removed to Rwanda.
Join the campaign
The Freedom United community is calling on the U.K. government and all other governments around the world to consider the ways in which their current migration policies and laws are creating rather than reducing vulnerability to trafficking. They must take immediate action to remedy the situation.
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