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Social justice
26 August 2013

Theresa May versus the modern day slave trade

Back in March, the Deep End featured a post about ‘human trafficking’ entitled Here’s a real challenge for Theresa May: End slavery in Britain

This is how it concluded:

  • “By the very nature of the crime, the victims of modern slavery are among the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society. They have no voice, no influence, no impact at all on mainstream public opinion.
  • “This is how the most appalling things can go on with no effect on the political agenda. Ignored by the media, overlooked by Parliament and merely managed by officialdom. This is, therefore, an issue that cries out for true leadership.”

As you may have seen in the weekend press, the Home Secretary, backed by the Prime Minister, has shown that leadership – and is taking action to deal with an evil that has been tolerated for far too long. Writing for Daily Telegraph, Fraser Nelson comments on the latest developments:  

  • “The Prime Minister has now agreed to pass a Modern Day Slavery Bill, which aims to extinguish today’s slave trade as surely as William Wilberforce’s Bill extinguished the old one. Its premise is that the Tories, who led that fight two centuries ago, have some unfinished business.”

This is a major breakthrough for the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), whose report It happens here, documents the reality of modern day slavery in 21st century Britain. Fraser Nelson explains why it is so important that we recognise this crime for what it is:

  • “If Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson had spent the 1780s mumbling about ‘human trafficking’, it’s unlikely that anyone would have paid attention. It was Barack Obama who said last year that it was time to call modern slavery by its name. If girls are being forced into domestic service and beaten if they try to leave, it’s slavery. If Lithuanian workers are being kept in debt bondage working on a Kent chicken farm, that’s slavery.”

Of course, these abuses are already serious offences under British law, so why is the response of the British state so deeply inadequate? Drawing on the CSJ’s report, Nelson outlines the basic weaknesses of the existing system:

  • “Social workers often have no idea how to recognise, let alone treat, modern-day slaves. It is estimated that local authorities lose track of three in every five who go into their care. The police, the lawyers and the Crown Prosecution Service seem utterly bamboozled...
  • “Part of the problem is that human trafficking is not a performance indicator for the police. As one law enforcement official put it, there is more incentive to investigate the theft of some tools from a garden shed than a case of human trafficking...
  • “This is why Britain has become the perfect Petri dish for this new evil. We have 1,200 foreigners arriving each day; a capital city where a third of the population are immigrants; and a confused criminal justice system that finds it easiest to go after the victims.”

Thankfully we have a Home Secretary who has shown herself willing and able to get a grip of the situation:

  • “...Theresa May is a very unusual politician: one that wants to be known by what she does, not what she says. Her Modern Slavery Bill will bring all the various laws together, and ensure that the issue is a top priority for her proposed National Crime Agency, which starts work in October. Catching a human trafficker will be as important as catching an arms dealer, and police will be given clear instructions that the victims are not to be prosecuted.” 

In this era of austerity, it is right that we should root out the waste caused by bureaucratic inefficiency. But it is even more important that we should concern ourselves with the evil that creeps in when authority fails. 


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