Baroness Stroud is the Chief Executive of the Centre for Social Justice.
With an estimated 45 million victims or slavery worldwide, trafficking is the fastest growing crime and the second largest source of illegal crime apart from drugs.
The tragic reality is that these crimes are happening in towns and cities across the globe. Innocent men, women and children, often in vulnerable circumstances, are being exploited and abused for profit. Behind the statistics are real people like you and I, with their own story, dreams and aspirations, which have been cruelly stripped away.
Living in a developed country that was at the forefront of abolition through William Wilberforce’s great work, this can be an uncomfortable and unfathomable truth for many of us. And with slavery continuing to thrive, it is clear that every country needs to step up and work together to end slavery once and for all.
This week, Theresa May has called for global action to stamp out modern slavery. At the United Nations General Assembly, she urged world leaders to work together to develop a response based on strong law enforcement and legislation, reducing vulnerability and supporting victims, tackling transparency in supply chains and effective international cooperation.
The United Kingdom is seen as a world leader in tackling slavery. This is in large part due to the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, which has toughened prosecution laws and sentences for offenders and provided more support for victims of slavery.
The Centre for Social Justice’s report, It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to fight modern slavery, sparked much of this progress and was fundamental in seeing the quest to end modern slavery become a political priority.
As a new Government took office in 2010, few people would have predicted that one of its most important achievements would be a Modern Slavery Act. Slavery wasn’t then a political priority: it was barely understood in Westminster. Thanks to the passionate and determined work of many, including the team at the Centre for Social Justice, many dedicated anti-trafficking organisations including Unseen and people such as Fiona Hill, special adviser to May when the katter was Home Secretary, it was elevated in our national and political consciousness.
The Modern Slavery Act shows us what can be achieved through the democratic process in our country, if leaders commit to governing with moral purpose.
However, as outlined in the CSJ’s latest report, A Modern Response to Modern Slavery and in the Prime Minister’s announcement this week, the battle has not yet been won. While the UK is among those countries doing the most to end slavery, there are still 12,000 people estimated to be in slavery in this country: that is is 12,000 too many. The new anti-slavery laws are just the start in truly ending slavery once and for all.
With slavery thriving in too many European nations, A Modern Response to Modern Slavery, authored by Hill and with a foreword by Mrs May, sought to offer a solution. The report looks at how slavery should be tackled in every country in Europe, offering 40 practical recommendations including harmonised terminology, a requirement for countries to obtain reliable data and holding law enforcement, borders and immigration officials to account.
In her foreword for the this report, May said: “This report…highlights the many complexities involved in modern slavery, and the work that needs to be done to prevent and prosecute these crimes. Most importantly of all, it makes clear that this is a cross-border crime that needs law enforcement in different countries to work together to disrupt and defeat these organised crime groups.”
The Prime Minister is right to continue prioritising the fight against modern slavery and to focus on getting all countries to recognise the serious problem slavery is and commit to playing their part to end this travesty.
Modern slavery thrives on extreme poverty and disadvantage – which is why the CSJ will continue to campaign to keep it a high profile issue. Making modern slavery a think of the past will require a fight against organised crime, but we must also fight the poverty that makes a man, woman or child vulnerable to exploitation in the first instance. We hope that every country will take up May’s call and that together we can see an end to slavery once and for all. Slavery is not inevitable, and leaders have the power to end it.