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UK reviews anti-slavery law to fight 'evolving' 4 billion pound crime

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 30 July 2018 11:00 GMT

People cast long shadows in the winter sunlight as they walk across a plaza in the Canary Wharf financial district of London, Britain, January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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Britain, regarded as a global leader in the fight against trafficking, is home to about 136,000 slaves

By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON, July 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain tasked lawmakers with reviewing its landmark anti-slavery law on Monday, to ensure it can keep up with the evolving crime as government data revealed that modern-day slavery costs the country billions of pounds each year.

The government also urged businesses to tackle modern slavery hidden in their supply chains, as research by the Home Office (interior ministry) found that the crime sets Britain back by up to 4.3 billion pounds ($5.6 billion) annually.

This new figure puts modern slavery second only to homicide in terms of its cost to British society, the Home Office said.

Britain is home to about 136,000 slaves, a global survey found this month. The figure is 10 times higher than previous government estimates and it points to emerging forms of slavery, such as the use of children as drug-runners, police say.

"As this awful crime is evolving, it is our responsibility as citizens, businesses and governments to do all we can to stop exploitation," said British minister for crime Victoria Atkins.

"This independent review will help us identify what more we can do to tackle this terrible, global injustice by enhancing the (legislation) where necessary," she said in a statement.

Britain has been regarded as a global leader in the fight against trafficking since passing the 2015 Modern Slavery Act to fight a crime estimated to affect 40 million people worldwide.

The law introduced life sentences for traffickers, measures to protect people at risk of being enslaved, and made large companies scrutinise their supply chains for forced labour.


The legislation has been hailed as an example in the drive to end slavery, with nations from Australia to India mulling similar laws to fight the crime, which the U.N. International Labour Organization estimates is worth $150 billion a year.

But activists say the law has not made a serious dent in the trade in Britain. The government this month launched an inquiry into national anti-slavery efforts, citing concerns over the use of children as drug mules and limited support for victims.

Under the law, firms with a turnover of at least 36 million pounds must issue a statement outlining steps they have taken to spot and combat the risk of forced labour in their operations - yet there are no penalties for companies that fail to do so.

"The law has no teeth when it comes to action from businesses," Tim Nelson of the anti-trafficking charity Hope for Justice told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. "Britain needs to ensure companies are not just paying lip service."

Businesses in Britain are failing to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains, with many slow to take action under the anti-slavery law, a survey of company managers showed on Monday.

Just over half of the about 19,000 companies required to comply with the law have issued statements to date, according to Transparency in the Supply Chain (TISC) - a public database.

The law should also guarantee support for people who are recognised as victims of slavery by the government, said Kate Roberts, head of office at the Human Trafficking Foundation.

There is an "urgency to address the gaps which exist for the increasing numbers of victims identified every day", she said.

The National Crime Agency received 5,145 reports of suspected slavery victims in 2017, up from 3,804 in 2016. ($1 = 0.7628 pounds) (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Jared Ferrie(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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