Modern Slavery Act 2015 Debate

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Caroline Spelman

Main Page: Caroline Spelman (Conservative - Meriden)

Modern Slavery Act 2015

Caroline Spelman Excerpts
Thursday 26th October 2017

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Caroline Spelman Portrait Dame Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con)
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26 Oct 2017, 1:17 p.m.

Last week the Church of England launched the Clewer Initiative, which is aimed at tackling modern-day slavery and draws on excellent work pioneered by the Bishop of Derby. This three-year project has been designed to help dioceses detect instances of modern-day slavery in their midst and provide appropriate support for victims. There are many tools available in the local community to help end slavery, and the Church, which is present in all communities, has an inherent responsibility to help lead those efforts. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said:

“William Wilberforce convinced his generation that slavery was a sin. That belief has not changed. The sin lies in our ignorance to its existence around us.”

The Clewer Initiative takes its name from a group of sisters that was founded in 1852 to help marginalised women, but its legacy today will be to help address modern-day slavery. The campaign slogan is, “We See You”, and the aim at the heart of the initiative is to empower people like us to spot the signs of modern forms of slavery, which is happening all around us in our towns, cities and villages. Slaves can be right in the middle of the communities in which we live. We do not always know the signs and we are not sure about the right questions to ask. Modern slavery is a hidden crime, and for that reason we have to take seriously the injunction to know who our neighbour really is. Our neighbour could be a homeless man forced into work, or a girl kept in domestic servitude. Victims may be nearly invisible to us, so we have to develop sharper eyes in order to detect their needs, hence the campaign slogan, “We See You”.

The Clewer Initiative is designed to help dioceses develop strategies to detect slavery in their communities, by offering training and monitoring. Crucially, it gives people the correct contacts to reach out to if they spot signs of slavery and are worried that someone might be trapped in it. Nationally, the initiative involves developing a network of practitioners committed to sharing models of best practice and providing evidence-based data to resource the Church’s national engagement with statutory and non-statutory bodies. The project has taken best practice from Derby, and there are now 10 other participating dioceses: Bath and Wells, Chester, Durham, Guildford, Lichfield, Liverpool, Rochester, Portsmouth, Southwark, and Southwell and Nottingham. A further 14 dioceses are due to sign up later this year, and it is hoped that the Church of England’s 42 dioceses, or 12,000 parishes, will all become mobilised in the battle to eradicate modern slavery. Of course, as the landscape in each is so different, the approach and training will need to be contextualised, but there is no doubt that this approach can make a difference.

If we take the vanguard of this approach, the Bishop of Derby and his diocese—Bishop Alastair was on the Draft Modern Day Slavery Bill Committee, along with me and many other Members present—we see that the key is developing a strong working relationship with the key agencies: the police, the city council and others that can reach out and provide assistance to the victims. Within the Church, the Mothers Union has taken on the need to ensure supplies for victims by fundraising and producing emergency packs for them. There are many examples from the Clewer Initiative of each diocese taking the opportunity to help. I encourage every Member present and those who will read this debate to prompt their own diocese to find out what is happening in their locality.

Of course, none of this is to diminish the good work carried out across the country by secular non-governmental organisations in our community. I highlight the work of Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland, of which the Solihull club in my constituency is a member. It has undertaken online and face-to-face surveys to understand how much the public know about slavery and human trafficking and what their perceptions are. The survey seeks to help the UK modern slavery training delivery group to assess the level of public knowledge in order to help to combat it. As of last week, 3,700 online surveys had been completed and more than 4,400 paper surveys returned.

When we made our bid to the Backbench Business Committee last week, one of the issues I wanted to raise was child trafficking. I was shocked to read the report in The Times, which Baroness Butler-Sloss described as “very disturbing”, about the scores of vulnerable minors who fall back into the hands of traffickers. More than 150 Vietnamese minors have disappeared from care and foster homes since 2015, with 90 others going missing temporarily. It would seem that many go missing within two days of entering care. How can we use the word “care” if children go missing that rapidly? In that report in The Times, Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, expressed concern at the “frequency and speed” with which Vietnamese minors go missing and said that the case of a teenager taken from care not once but twice showed

“a lack of professionalism in the response to the plight of trafficking victims”.

I join the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and others who have spoken in impressing on the Government the need to go out of their way to tackle this terrible abuse of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable in our society.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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26 Oct 2017, 1:24 p.m.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I welcome the Modern Slavery Act 2015, in particular section 54, on supply chains, which we had to fight quite hard for. Despite the legislation, as the National Crime Agency said earlier this year, modern slavery is steadily increasing. There are many industries in which modern slavery goes undetected, in everyday situations right under our noses. Twenty cases of modern slavery have been investigated in Bristol over the last year, including one involving eastern European workers who were exploited by a Bristol car wash and forced to work long hours for low pay. One had worked for 18 months without any pay at all, and it is believed that five others are in the same situation.

In July, police arrested four people on suspicion of human trafficking and slavery offences following a raid on a nail bar in Southmead in Bristol, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones). Unseen, a Bristol-based charity that works to eradicate modern slavery and runs the UK-wide modern slavery helpline, is running the “Let’s Nail It” campaign, which aims to raise awareness and help to stop slavery in nail bars. I am happy to support the campaign—hence my bright pink nails today—as is Avon and Somerset police, which ended up being denounced by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) on the front page of The Sun for its efforts. However, it was right to do so: we need to bring people’s attention to what is happening right under their noses. Over the past 12 months, police in the wider Avon and Somerset area have dealt with 60 investigations and seen a significant increase in modern slavery-related intelligence. Calls to the helpline also went up following the awareness campaign.

However, the police need to be properly resourced. As my local police and crime commissioner and chief constable have said in their recent report, “The Tipping Point”, the police are being stretched to the point where they lack the resources to carry out basic policing functions, let alone mount investigations. Both the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have faced cuts to their capacity to deal with slavery offences. In 2014, the Migration Advisory Committee said that on average a firm could expect a visit from HMRC inspectors only once every 250 years.

Many of the calls about nail bars cite the physical or psychological state of workers, inappropriate sleeping accommodation on business premises, poor working conditions, lack of spoken English, cheap prices, cash-only transactions and concerns of abuse and violence—the workers seem intimidated by their bosses. Consumers need to be aware of these signs so that they are never unintentional supporters of organised crime. The Southmead nail bar raid was prompted by a tip-off from a member of the public who raised concerns about a woman’s welfare. Without that intervention, it could have taken a lot longer for the victim to be identified and taken to a place of safety.

People need to know how to spot the signs that modern slavery is happening in their community. Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse or appear withdrawn. They may have few possessions. They may always wear the same clothes and have no identification documents. They may all live and work at the same address. They may regularly be dropped off or collected for work either very early or very late at night. People need to be vigilant.

Finally, I want to say a bit about slavery in the food processing, fishing and agriculture sectors, which remains a huge issue. Unite the Union’s excellent “From Plough to Plate” report found that employers in those sectors are some of the worst exploiters of workers, with countless instances of abuse meeting the legal definitions of slavery and forced labour. Only last year, a group of 16 Lithuanian chicken farm workers won their case against two Kent-based gangmasters who had forced them to work under threat of violence and kept them in squalid living conditions. This was the first settlement of a claim against a British company in relation to modern slavery. In another 2016 case, two Lithuanian men had been trafficked to work in a meat processing plant. They had their pay withheld and were subjected to violence, but the traffickers were sentenced to only three and a half years in jail.

The Environmental Justice Foundation has done admirable work over the past five years in exposing modern slavery in Thailand’s seafood sector, uncovering widespread human trafficking and human rights abuses both in the pre-processing facilities and at sea. There have been examples of people being kept at sea for several years, being moved from ship to ship, and never reaching shore and being able to seek sanctuary. In April, the Environmental Justice Foundation reported that, despite reforms, forced labour continues to be widespread, citing the shocking statistic that 59% of Thai fishing workers had witnessed the murder of a fellow worker. Many more had been tortured and abused, and had wages, food and sleep withheld from them. This is directly linked to the supply chains of many major seafood companies around the world, including in the UK; millions of pounds of seafood products are imported from Thailand every year.

Moving on from seafood, another example, from just this week, is that two of Italy’s biggest tomato suppliers for UK supermarkets have been implicated in a range of labour abuses, in what have been described as “conditions of absolute exploitation”, with workers required to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with minimal pay and no access to medical care. These are just a few examples of something that is incredibly widespread.

In 2015, The Economist described the supply chain transparency requirements in the Modern Slavery Act as “light touch”, with only 12,000 commercial companies affected. The Government need to go further. Submission of a full and comprehensive statement should be legally binding on all companies, with penalties for non-compliance that go beyond naming and shaming, and greater criminal liability for cases when practices of slavery or forced labour are found in a company’s supply chain or products.

Specifically in relation to the seafood sector and the fishing industry, the Environmental Justice Foundation is calling for: transnational approaches for all countries—port, flag and coastal states—to ratify and implement fully the International Labour Organisation’s convention 188 on work in fishing; all countries to implement legislation to prosecute national citizens engaged in human trafficking on vessels registered to another country; and retailers and the industry to establish effective transparency and traceability across their whole supply chain, including committing to independent, third-party and unannounced auditing of their supply chains.

Cheap products and services often come at an unseen cost. We need to ask ourselves: just how come prices in the shops are so low? If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Such products have no place on British shelves. Such services should never be used. We all need to play a role in suffocating slavery at source by exercising vigilance.