Punish the perpetrators of modern slavery, not the victims

May 30, 2024

By Tatiana Gren-Jardan, the Head of the Modern Slavery Unit at Justice and Care and the Centre for Social Justice

Once a global leader in the fight against modern slavery, in recent years the UK has made significant steps backwards by confusing modern slavery with organised immigration crime, punishing victims for their immigration status and letting traffickers off scot-free.

Many people think that modern slavery can only happen to foreign nationals. Some victims are brought to the UK on a false promise of a better life and a well-paid job, only to find themselves trapped in exploitation and abuse, coerced into forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced criminality or domestic servitude.

However, in the recent years the largest single group of victims found in the UK have been British nationals, mainly young British boys forced to commit crime up and down the country.

Victims, often fearful of reprisals from traffickers and of deportation, need help to exit their daily ordeal and find a path to recovery. Victims hold vital intelligence against their traffickers and without their help we will not be able to bring this crime to an end.

Yet, in recent years the UK has introduced new immigration legislation that punishes victims and views them solely through an immigration lens. By narrowing access to support and putting the onus on victims to produce evidence of their exploitation, the Government has inadvertently played into the hands of traffickers who now have even greater control of their victims. This needs to stop.

We believe that the next Government has a unique opportunity and a duty to put things right. Fresh energy and political leadership are urgently needed to ensure Britain rids itself of slavery and leads the global fight once again.

Our new report, A renewed vision for the fight against modern slavery: A programme for Government sets out six priority recommendations for how the next government can take seriously the challenge of modern slavery in the first year after the election. This starts by treating the crime of modern slavery as it truly is – a crime against some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Approaching the General Election, we are calling the next government to:
• Re-assign ministerial responsibilities to reflect the true nature of modern slavery crime
• Review and address the impact of the recently introduced policy and legislation
• Develop a new cross-departmental strategy to reinvigorate the response to modern slavery
• Ensure needs-based support is available to all victims of modern slavery
• Close legal gaps by introducing a new Modern Slavery Bill that would strengthen our response to criminal exploitation
• Strengthen UK Government policy and legislation to prevent modern slavery in business and public sector supply chains