Parliament’s final Act to combat Modern Slavery

01 Jan 1970 1:00 am by Mark Dunn

One of the final acts of Parliament before its dissolution was the passing of the Modern Slavery Act.  Just as the UK was one of the first countries to outlaw the slave trade in the early 19th century, so it is now the first to introduce significant penalties for companies or individuals involved or benefitting from modern day slavery or human trafficking.

We have covered the Bill's passage from idea to law extensively.  It puts Britain at the forefront of an international effort to outlaw an industry that trades on human misery and nets its perpetrators more than £100 billion a year.

In the UK alone, there are an estimated 13,000 victims of domestic servitude, forced labour and sexual exploitation and the new legislation is a major step towards eradicating these crimes and forcing companies to take responsibility for conditions in their supply chains.

The new law sees the maximum jail term for traffickers increase from 14 years to life and gives the police and other authorities the power to seize traffickers' assets and force them to pay compensation to their victims.  Furthermore, there is added protection for people at risk of becoming enslaved and a key defence for child victims against prosecution for crimes committed directly as a consequence of their trafficking.

There are other provisions to protect children, including a commitment to introduce child trafficking advocates, a statutory defence to protect victims from being criminalised, a clause to ensure children without proof of age are treated as children and a stronger criminal offence of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour to help prosecute those abusing children.

The legislation also creates the post of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner with an extended remit to include protection of victims.  Significantly, the Act seeks to extend protection beyond the shores of the UK, with companies now compelled to disclose what action they have taken to make sure that their supply chains are free from slave labour.

Lord Bates, a Home Office minister, told the House of Lords on the Bill's final reading that it was fitting for it to be passed on the United Nations day of remembrance for victims of slavery.  He added: "This momentous piece of legislation, which has been shaped and reformed and improved so much by all parts of this House ... (will) give the protection to the victims who need it and ... ensure the perpetrators can practice their crimes no more."

The passage of the Bill and its receipt of Royal Assent have received scant attention in the UK media but has been widely reported elsewhere.  It is often said that the British press fails to trumpet the country's achievements sufficiently, preferring to concentrate on the country's perceived weaknesses.  The Modern Slavery Act may be just such a case in point: the passing of this trailblazing legislation was covered in detail by just two major news outlets.

The Modern Slavery Act is, however, a triumph of justice and will allow the UK to continue to lead the global fight against slavery.  With far more scope to prosecute those involved and to protect victims, the passing of the Modern Slavery Act is sure to go down history as a momentous occasion.

Learn about some practical tools available to combat modern slavery, register here for a LexisNexis webinar on 20th April 2015: 'Tackling Trafficking: how to combat modern day slavery'. Expert speakers: Parosha Chandran, Matt Moriarty and Colleen Theron will be answering questions live.

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