Theresa May Takes Further Decisive Action Against Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery.
Also see: an indictment of the trans-Atlantic historic slave trade
As Home Secretary, and now as Prime Minister, Theresa May has taken decisive action against human trafficking and modern day slavery. She is to be warmly applauded:
Pope Francis, too, has written about the importance of eradicating modern slavery and human trafficking from our world.
11.05 am July 8th 2016
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill, which is being promoted by my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey. She is a formidable and effective parliamentarian with a long track record in contesting modern-day forms of slavery. Her eloquent speech today was an impressive extension of that record.
I support the requirements in her Bill which would be placed on commercial organisations and public bodies to include a statement on slavery and human trafficking in their annual reports and accounts, and the requirement for contracting authorities to exclude from procurement procedures economic operators which have not provided such a statement. With the United Kingdom Government awarding £45 billion of contracts annually, it is self-evident what leverage this policy could provide in forcing businesses to strengthen their slavery and trafficking statements. I was particularly pleased to see that, following the publication of the BMA’s report in March on the 150 billion medical gloves used globally, not least here in the National Health Service, the BMA is strongly supporting my noble friend’s Bill because there are significant concerns, as we have heard—the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to this—about labour abuses in many of the factories which produce disposable gloves.
This is a very modest Bill and a first step to addressing the concern of the Transparency in Supply Chains Coalition that early indications are that the majority of initial,
“company statements on modern slavery in supply chains appear not to meet the Act’s requirements”.
I am also glad that the Bill is before your Lordships as it enables us to have a broader and wider debate today. It could be used, as others have suggested, to meet the real expectations which we all had of the 2015 Act. Thanks to my noble friend Lady Young, we have the opportunity now to plug some of the gaps left in the legislation. Although the Government opposed my own amendment in 2015 proposing post-legislative scrutiny, my noble friend’s Bill gives us an opportunity to do some of that. We have already heard the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, refer to the extension of the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. We have also heard some concerns raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss and others about other issues in the Bill: everything from domestic visas to the national referral mechanism and the central repository, which was alluded to by the right reverend Prelate and which I will return to in due course.
Seven years ago, in 2009, I accompanied my noble friend Lady Young to see the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to support her amendments in Committee to the Coroners and Justice Bill, which sought to make it a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment to hold someone in servitude; and to make it an offence for a person to subject another to forced or compulsory labour where the victim had been threatened with harm if they did not perform the work. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, could not been more receptive or helpful, and I hope that that will set the tone for the response given by the noble and learned Lord to my noble friend’s Bill today.
These abhorrent practices were the issues to which we all returned during the passage of the flagship Modern Slavery Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I pay particular tribute to the right honourable Theresa May, the Home Secretary—I hope that that tribute does not do her too much damage—and to our own Home Office Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for their diligence and effectiveness in promoting flagship legislation which commanded support across both Houses and all sides of your Lordships’ House.
I might say in parenthesis that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, is due to return to the United Kingdom around 8 August having walked a staggering 2,460 kilometres so far, from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro, while raising money for UNICEF and awareness of the 2016 Olympic Truce. Although his sons tease him that he is more “Beer and Grills” than Bear Grylls, he and his wife have, through their earlier walks, already given more than £200,000 to charity.
Through the noble Lord’s work in government, a different gift will be the enduring legacy of the modern slavery legislation, not least the provision which requires businesses with a commercial presence in the UK and a worldwide turnover in excess of £36 million to report annually on steps that the business has taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in its supply chains or any part of its own business. However, it was the noble Lord, Lord Bates, himself who admitted that, admirable though the Act was, it would never be the last word on the subject. The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, published only this week, refers to our legislation in the United Kingdom and notes:
“Media and NGOs report compliance so far has been incomplete, in part due to misunderstandings among businesses about what the law requires. Critics noted the lack of monetary or criminal penalties for companies that did not comply with the reporting requirement”.
It is obvious that there is a need for us to go further than we have done even in that admirable 2015 legislation. That need was underlined at a meeting held here, on Tuesday, in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association room. Mr Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, said at that meeting that the Act had been judged the world’s third-strongest response to this cancer of modern-day slavery, surpassed only by legislation in the Netherlands and the United States. Nevertheless, it is not perfect and is not a panacea.
During consideration of that legislation, at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, I argued that modern slavery is, by its very nature, a global phenomenon. It cannot be tackled by one Government alone, but requires a global solution and a concerted and coherent global strategy. We heard again from Kevin Hyland that, for every person trafficked in the UK, there are dozens of children in forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton mills, men and women enslaved in Mauritania, and Syrian children used as child labour in Lebanon. In addition, 90% of North Korean escapees are trafficked in China, women and children are exploited in bonded labour in India and Pakistan, and all over the world women and girls are trafficked into brothels. Your Lordships could recall, too, the fatal consequences of the collapsed garment factory in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh and ask themselves whether we are doing enough to deter suppliers that display such a fundamental disrespect for human rights.
On Monday, I met with representatives of India’s Dalit community—so-called “untouchables”—who form a significant proportion of the 21 million people the International Labour Organization says are in forced labour around the world, who in total produce an estimated $150 billion in illicit profits. Then there are the 45 million people estimated to be living in modern slavery by the Global Slavery Index. India and China are among the top five countries on that index. It was of course good that earlier this year Her Majesty’s Government ratified the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, but perhaps the Minister will tell us when that protocol will come into effect and what penalties will accompany it.
Consider the abuses and exploitation of workers in such places as the cotton mills of Tamil Nadu in India. The mills in that region have supplied high-street retailers such as C&A, Mothercare and Primark. The Flawed Fabrics report, published by the SOMO Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the India Committee of the Netherlands, details many examples of forced labour abuses. Verité, an organisation promoting fair labour, estimates that 85% of migrant workers in Malaysia alone are in some form of forced labour. Modern slavery is so common in the fashion industry that each of us is probably wearing at least one garment that has been made with some element of forced labour. Modern supply chains are complex, many steps removed from the company, and operate across multiple countries with different approaches to workers’ rights. This year both H&M, the Swedish multinational retail clothing company, and Next found modern slavery during an audit of their supply chain, specifically in the form of Syrian refugee children working in Turkish factories.
On Tuesday, at our meeting, the commissioner reminded us of how Nigerian boys have been lured to England with promises of riches from playing football in the Premier League, but forced into slavery once they arrive. Many people, often immigrants and migrants, are forced into economic servitude, often wholly unremunerated or on paltry wages. It is thought that in industrialised nations, some 360,000 people work in such exploitative conditions.
This is to say nothing of the barbarity which often accompanies enslavement—and outright genocide— of Yazidis and Christians in Syria and Iraq by Islamic State. Their plight was highlighted again this week through the harrowing story of an 18 year-old Yazidi woman, Lamiya Aji Bashar, who was enslaved, raped, tortured and left partially blind and permanently scarred. She was given wonderful help by our colleague, my noble friend Lady Nicholson, who played a central role in Lamiya’s escape. Two of the other enslaved girls who attempted to escape with her were killed. Her 9 year-old sister, Mayada, remains a captive.
On Wednesday this week, along with my noble friend Lady Cox, who has done so much on these issues, I raised the genocide being perpetrated by Khartoum in Sudan’s Nuba mountains and South Kordofan, where enslavement of Africans has been systematic and routine. Just last month, Sudan bombed the St Vincent school in El Obeid. This town in Kordofan is also where, in 1877, a girl aged 7 who had been kidnapped in Darfur was forced to walk for some 600 miles, and was sold and bought by slave traders twice before she even arrived there. She was forced to convert and even her name was taken from her. To ensure permanent scarring, a total of 114 intricate patterns were cut into her breasts, belly and right arm. Subsequently, she was bought by Italians and ultimately freed. She then gave her life to the service of others, and in 2000, Josephine Bakhita was declared the patron saint of Sudan. The outcome of this 19th-century story may suggest the triumph of hope over cruelty, but her story, as a trafficked child, is one being repeated even while we meet.
On Wednesday, Mende Nazer, a former slave from the Nuba mountains, was in Parliament. She has described how she was abducted from her home in the Nuba mountains aged 12, and suffered rape and other forms of abuse while working for a family in Khartoum. In 2000, Mende was sent by her host father with false documents to work in the UK. She lived as a house slave for four months at the home of the Sudanese diplomat Abdel Al Koronky in Willesden Green, where she was not allowed to stray further than the front door. She managed to escape and applied for asylum. Her first application was denied two years after it was submitted, but that decision was reversed in November 2002. Understandably, Mende was traumatised by the events of her childhood and adolescence, and struggled to adjust to being free. Her story has been told in the book Slave by Damien Lewis, the TV show “I Am Slave” and the play “Slave—A Question of Freedom”. Some Members of your Lordships’ House may be familiar with that play, as extracts were performed here. Mende founded the Mende Nazer Foundation, which works with Nuba communities to build schools, wells and water purification systems, and she continues to be a fierce advocate of peace and human rights for the Nuba community.
Our Modern Slavery Act is exemplary, but we must not get into too much of a self-congratulatory mode until we have persuaded every country and every sector of society to play their part. Yesterday, the Home Office Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, wrote to me following up my Oral Question on 13 June, when I asked about the plight of 10,000 unaccompanied children who Europol say have gone missing in Europe. I am grateful for the letter, but it does not answer my question of what has happened to those children and whether that number is being added to. I will ask again, and repeat a question asked my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss on an earlier occasion. How many of the unaccompanied children whom we said we would take have actually arrived in the UK?
This is important because the anti-slavery commissioner told us this week that there is a direct connection between this vast exodus of refugees and vulnerable children, and modern-day slavery and trafficking. Indeed, this week the Dutch media reported that hundreds of children are living in what they described as a modern Oliver Twist story, some held against their will and others in thrall to their handlers, as they are forced to beg and steal their way around European cities. Some are just eight years of age. Fagin, the Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist should be the characters of Victorian literature, not 21st-century Europe.
On Tuesday, Mr Hyland said that Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, had told him that the figure of 10,000 is a conservative one and that the number is probably higher. Mr Hyland said that there is a “clear” link between trafficking and these crimes, and that it has become a “crime of choice”. I would be grateful if the noble and learned Lord would tell us what action is being taken by the Government about that and about the failure to refer the position of children through the national referral mechanism, especially where minors are involved, on to prosecution.
I realise that I have probably said too much in this debate and will bring my remarks to an end. I just want to press the Minister on something I raised in Committee and at Report and divided the House over, which is the central repository. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, said,
“we want to see these statements in one place so that people can monitor and evaluate them to ensure that the intended action takes place”.—[Official Report, 25/2/15; col. 1750.]
Sadly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, contradicted that answer in answer to a question from my noble friend Lady Young when he said:
“There never was an intention to establish any central monitoring system with respect to these provisions”.—[Official Report, 13/4/16; col. 256.]
I ask the Minister today, in advance of the opportunity to table amendments in Committee, kindly to outline the Government’s current thinking on the creation of a central repository and tell us which of those two ministerial statements represents the Government’s position.
We must take the Government at their word that they wanted this to be flagship legislation, which is why my noble friend’s Bill is so welcome. I hope that it receives support from right across your Lordships’ House.