Taking UK's lead, Commonwealth lawmakers set sights on modern slavery

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 14 December 2017 16:09 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: People crowd a market square at the central business district, a day before Christmas, in Lagos, Nigeria, December 24, 2014. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

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"We need to apply these laws to secure more prosecutions, which will act as a deterrent to perpetrators ... and make citizens more alert to the problem"

By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON, Dec 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Inspired by Britain's leading role in fighting modern slavery, politicians from Commonwealth countries including Ghana, Kenya and Pakistan said on Thursday that adopting tougher anti-slavery laws and prosecuting more traffickers were top of their agenda.

Commonwealth lawmakers met with their British counterparts in London this week to discuss legislation against slavery, support for victims, law enforcement and criminal justice.

Britain passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 to crack down on traffickers, force businesses to check their supply chains for forced labour, and protect people at risk of being enslaved.

"Parliamentarians have an important role to play in ending this shameful practice," British politician Vernon Coaker said at the event held by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK, which links legislators in former British colonies.

Politicians from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda discussed issues such as sex trafficking and forced and child labour, in industries from farming to fishing.

Ghanaian lawmaker Moses Anim said many Commonwealth nations have anti-trafficking laws, yet must learn to use them better.

"We need to apply these laws to secure more prosecutions, which will act as a deterrent to perpetrators ... and make citizens more alert to the problem," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from the sidelines of the three-day event.

Raising awareness among the public and media, training law enforcers and civil society, and engaging parliament are also key to tackling slavery, said Mian Abdul Mannan of Pakistan.

"We have learned a lot about the importance of partnerships and bringing all of these actors together," the politician said, adding that Pakistan was debating new anti-slavery legislation.

Leaders of the 52 Commonwealth countries will meet in London in April for their next biennial meeting, where slavery and human trafficking are expected to be among the talking points.

Britain's anti-slavery tsar, Kevin Hyland, said these nations should look closely at Britain's landmark legislation.

"We are very keen that they have requirements around supply chain transparency, and establish an independent anti-slavery commissioner," Hyland told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

An Australian parliamentary inquiry last week urged its government to do just that as the country mulls tough new laws.

About 40 million people were estimated to be trapped as slaves in 2016, mostly women and girls, in forced labour, sexual exploitation and forced marriages, according to the U.N. International Labour Organization and the Walk Free Foundation.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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