Frank Field’s legacy on modern slavery will live on

April 24, 2024

Tatiana Gren-Jardan, the Head of the Joint Modern Slavery Policy Unit at Justice and Care and the Centre for Social Justice, pays tribute to Lord Frank Field, following his death, aged 81.

Today, we woke up to very sad news about the death of Lord Frank Field – a political giant, an extraordinary MP who served his constituents for 40 years, a dedicated champion against modern slavery, a friend of Justice and Care and the Centre for Social Justice, and simply a wonderful man. He will be remembered by many people whose lives he touched, and I am privileged to be one of them.

I first met Lord Field in 2013. I’d been involved in organising an exhibition called “Modern Day Slavery: The Hidden Agenda” which was launched by the then Prime Minister David Cameron. Lord Field, who sponsored the exhibition, persuaded hundreds of MPs, from across the House, to visit. 

He was an inspiring and unstoppable campaigner against modern slavery – a modern abolitionist, inspired by the likes of Wilberforce before him. He played a pivotal role in the creation of the Modern Slavery Act – impacting not only the UK, but leading to similar legislation in many countries around the world. 

When the CSJ launched their first report on modern slavery calling for a Modern Slavery Bill, Frank made a plea to the attendees “to call a spade a spade and refer to human trafficking by its real name – modern slavery”, and commit to lobbying for new legislation.

Such was Frank’s standing on the issue, he was asked by the then Home Secretary Theresa May MP to lead an evidence review to inform the Modern Slavery Bill. The review was proudly hosted by the CSJ and in his introduction to the final report Frank called on Theresa May to “reach for the stars in order to develop her draft Bill into a benchmark piece of legislation” that would establish Britain as a world leader in fighting modern slavery. And she did.

Lord Field went on to Chair the pre-legislative scrutiny committee of both Houses on the Modern Slavery Bill and played a pivotal role in shaping the Act. A few years later, he began an inquiry into the support for victims of modern slavery as the then Chair of the Commons’ Work and Pensions Select Committee. He recognised the fact that while the Modern Slavery Act was a pioneering piece of legislation, it did not address some of the glaring gaps in the support system that victims were falling through. He was adamant to hear not just from the frontline practitioners, but also from people with lived experience and did everything possible to accommodate their evidence in a sensitive and trauma-informed way.

In the committee’s final report, there was a recommendation to give all confirmed victims of slavery a personal plan which details their road to recovery and acts as a social passport to support them for at least the 12 month period with a discretionary leave to remain. A recommendation that we have since been lobbying for and will continue to do so until the, or a, government concedes. 

In 2019, Lord Field, together with Baroness Butler-Sloss and Maria Miller MP, carried out an Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act recognising the fact that the legislation is only as good as its implementation. The report made a number of recommendations for the government on how to strengthen the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, tighten transparency in supply chains section and improve the support for child victims of modern slavery, including the national roll out of the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian scheme which is due to happen in 2025. 

These are just the key examples of Lord Field’s immense contributions to the fight against modern slavery in the UK. He tirelessly lobbied the government behind the scenes and believed in a slavery-free Britain in the future. His legacy lives on and we will continue his work here at the Joint Modern Slavery Policy unit hosted by the CSJ and Justice and Care. It was a great privilege to work alongside him and he will be much missed.