UK: The fight against modern slavery and human trafficking in 2016

2016 shaped up to be a year that many wish to forget. Leaving Brexit and Trump’s election aside, the Sports Direct and Byron Burger scandals plus countless other stories of worker abuse have left us feeling that it’s one step forward and two steps back in the fight against modern slavery.

But if anything, 2016 has showed us that modern slavery is a prominent public issue now.  We’re certainly excited to focus our attention on what 2017 can bring in supply chain improvements and the eradication of human trafficking.

To do so, let’s recap on three major occurrences that have happened this year to summarise the situation going into 2017:

THE RISE IN NUMBERS OF SLAVERY VICTIMS

We have seen a 245% increase in the number of people reported to be the victims of modern slavery in 2016 compared to 2015. The National Referral Mechanism, a key part of the identification process, is yet to release its 2016 statement but also reported a rise from 2014 to 2015.

Whether there are genuinely more opportunities for victims to be found or alert authorities themselves, the fact remains that the demand for cheap goods continues to push labour providers and workers into creating or enduring abusive conditions. There is also the notable issue of UK police forces failing to record what happens to slavery victims as crimes, meaning many cases are never investigated. This points to the actual numbers of victims being far higher than statistics show.

Further breakdown of the data is needed to show whether the problem is getting worse or whether more victims’ cases are being heard.

THE SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS

Dominating the headlines this year has been the (often tragic) stories of migrants fleeing the Syrian civil war as it reaches its peak. Calling for responses from all European governments, the crisis has kicked up the issue of attitudes towards migrant workers to an even greater degree.

As this article states, 99 percent of Syrian refugees in in Jordan 2015 were working without permits and in many countries where there is movement of migrants, they are being imprisoned, tortured and raped by people traffickers.

What can we expect of the monitoring and welfare of refugees and migrants – those entering the UK legally and illegally – in the coming months?

FIRST YEAR OF MODERN SLAVERY ACT COMPANY STATEMENTS RELEASED

There is no doubt that the current government is committed to addressing the modern slavery issue – a commitment representing £33m of budget expenditure. The first-ever government taskforce on modern slavery is working through its agenda with interventions on everything from child labour to the Women and Girls Protection Fund for Europe and North Africa fund.

Tangible statistics from the relatively new government’s efforts are yet to be published but we hope to start seeing the outcomes in early 2017.

This year also saw the first applicable companies comply with the modern slavery act and produce a statement outlining the action they are taking to eliminate and prevent modern slavery and human trafficking within their supply chains. We recently gave our reactions on these first reports.

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Forced labour, people trafficking, debt bondage and child marriage are all forms of modern-day slavery that affect the world's most vulnerable people.

Let’s look to 2017 with a realistic and determined mind-set to do our part in ending modern slavery.

Finally, to use a related example, if animal rights supporters and the power of celebrity and social media can combine forces in a matter of days to address stray dog abuse in Mauritius, the same can – and should - happen with the people who make our products.