By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON, Feb 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One of Britain's most senior police officers is set to be appointed the country's new anti-slavery chief almost nine months after the inaugural commissioner resigned citing government interference, the Times newspaper said on Sunday.
Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) since 2015, will take up the role later this year, the British newspaper reported.
Britain's Home Office (interior ministry) said it could not confirm the appointment, and that a candidate would be "announced shortly". Thornton could not be reached for comment.
A source with knowledge of the situation told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Sunday that Thornton's name had been "heard on the grapevine" but no appointment has been confirmed.
Kevin Hyland was appointed as the inaugural independent anti-slavery commissioner in 2014 as part of Britain's landmark Modern Slavery Act, but he resigned last May and left the post in August, saying he had been frustrated by government meddling.
Hyland was widely hailed for helping to champion the world-first law and pushing the United Nations to adopt a target to end slavery by 2030 among a set of global goals agreed in 2015.
Britain's push to be the world leader in tackling slavery has been "thwarted" by the delay in replacing Hyland, which has hindered policy advances and scrutiny of the government, sources told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in December.
The Home Office has advertised twice for the role - a three-year contract with a salary of up to 140,000 pounds ($178,000).
Britain was in December urged by lawmakers to scrap its search for a new anti-slavery chief and address concerns about the independence of the role before readvertising.
In a government-ordered review of the law, three politicians said they were worried by reports that Hyland had not been free to criticise Britain's anti-slavery efforts and the job advert for his successor raised doubts about the role's independence.
Britain announced in July it would review its 2015 law amid criticism that it is not being used fully to jail traffickers, drive big businesses to stop forced labour, or support victims.
Campaigners said the new anti-slavery chief should ensure Britain's approach to tackling modern slavery and human trafficking goes far beyond just relying on law enforcement.
"Finding victims should be the last step. Stopping people becoming them in the first place should be the core part of any sensible anti-slavery plan," said Emily Kenway, a senior advisor for the charity Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX).
"This means reducing outsourcing, ensuring migrant workers have access to public money, introducing joint liability which makes the top of a supply chain responsible for the abuse lower down," said Kenway, formerly a staffer with Hyland's office.
Britain is home to at least 136,000 modern slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation - a figure 10 times higher than a government estimate from 2013. (Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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