Anthony Steen, when Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking which he founded in 2006, not only raised awareness of the scale and effects of human trafficking into the UK and the EU, but also put forward practical solutions to reduce supply and demand, and to improve welfare provisions for victims.
The European Commission estimates that a minimum of 100,000 people are trafficked into and around the EU each year, with at least 5,000 victims arriving in the UK. Unfortunately, the UK statistics are inconsistent and unreliable; the Metropolitan Police believe that as far as sex trafficking in London alone is concerned, there are some 4,000 women trafficked annually into brothels, massage parlours, and the like. Human trafficking is now the second most profitable criminal activity in the world, netting $32 billion per year to traffickers.
Despite its relative youth, the Group has garnered widespread recognition and praise across Government for its commitment to its cause and far-reaching work. Immigration Minister Damian Green MP described the APPG as “an absolute model of how one can use an all-party group to shift public policy forward an inch or two.” Reconvened in July 2010 under the joint chairmanship of myself and Baroness Butler-Sloss, it now boasts 12 officers representing in both the Commons and the Lords and is one of the largest all party groups in parliament.
ECPAT UK (coordinating Anti-Slavery International, Jubilee Campaign, NSPCC, Save the Children UK, The Children’s Society, UNICEF UK, and World Vision UK), a leading charity dedicated to combating child trafficking, provides information to the Parliamentary Group members, whilst Anthony Steen (now chairing the Human Trafficking Foundation) is the Group’s Special Adviser.
Through its pan-European campaign, the APPG has established similar cross party parliamentary groups in Spain, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Denmark, Italy, Poland, Greece, Cyprus, and Estonia. Creating a network right across European parliaments is the aim.
The group’s biggest challenge now is how to guide the new government on how best to address this hidden and growing scourge which presents itself in many different guises and how better to help victims cope with their situation. There are a number of issues which need urgent consideration. Should the scope of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Authority be extended to include the hospitality, tourism and agriculture industries, and so better tackle the growth of labour exploitation?
In an answer to me on July 22nd, Home Secretary, Theresa May, said: “Tackling human trafficking is a coalition priority, and the Government are currently considering how to improve our response to this terrible crime, including through the creation of a border police”.
Questions need to be asked regarding the closure of the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre and the loss of some fifty staff as well as the consequences of the demise of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. What will happen to the National Referral Mechanism, by which those who have been trafficked are formally identified? Who will coordinate that and what skills will the interrogators have? What effect will these two closures have on human trafficking? Should we continue to turn a blind eye to this?
Perhaps the Government need look no further and enlist some of the top-class Non-Governmental Organisations willing and able to give practical help in solving some of these problems. They are certainly up to it. Isn’t this part of David Cameron’s “Big Society”, and shouldn’t the NGOs whom the previous administration ignored, be more involved? We recently heard the excellent announcement of locally-elected Police Commissioners – could they be required to report annually of Human Trafficking in the area?
If savings are to be made (e.g. £1.8m for the UKHTC), why not enlist NGOs like ECPAT UK to help with the National Referral Mechanism? Government could do no better than to bring in Kalayaan, whose sterling work fighting domestic slavery is well known. Poppy is a professionally run housing association caring for fifty or more abused women in at any one time in London alone: shouldn’t their ten years of experience be spread to other metropolitan areas? As Chairman of the All-Party Group, with the help of the Human Trafficking Foundation, I want to encourage government to take a lead in promoting the growth of networks of parliamentarians right across the EU, both to deter traffickers and to develop a more caring strategy towards victims.
William Wilberforce banished overt slavery 200 years ago yet today new slavery is even more widespread and an even more daunting challenge because it is ingrained in our society yet hidden from view.