The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK - Home Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. Over the last few years, there has been a growing awareness that, despite the abolition of slavery in most of the world, insidious forms of trading human beings for forced labour and sexual exploitation persist. The stories of Chinese cockle-pickers who died in Morecambe Bay in 2004 and other similar accounts have begun to awaken the UK media and the public to the fact that such exploitation also takes place in this country, not only in poor lands far away.

2. Our sister Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, undertook an inquiry into human trafficking, publishing its report in October 2006.[1] Naturally, this report concentrated on the human rights of victims. It was very critical of the UK Government's efforts to combat the trade. In 2008, we decided to undertake our own inquiry, examining progress since the Joint Committee's report and, in addition, focusing on the multinational efforts to deal with what is, as far as the UK is concerned, largely a transnational crime.

3. In the course of our inquiry we took oral evidence from Mr Alan Campbell MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for State for Crime Reduction at the Home Office, and from Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, Minister for Equality; the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC), the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and the Metropolitan Police; Europol and the European Commission; a number of the NGOs working in the field— Anti-Slavery International, the Poppy Project, Kalayaan and End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (known as ECPAT UK); the Gangmasters Licensing Authority; the Anti-Trafficking Legal Project (ATLeP); the London Councils' Children and Young People's Forum; the Association of Directors of Children's Services; Newsquest, a local newspaper group; and Mr Misha Glenny, an investigative journalist. We received written evidence from many of these witnesses and from 20 other individuals and organisations. We also wrote to the Embassies of a number of countries involved in combating trafficking; we received replies from just four. These letters and all the other written and oral evidence we received are published with this Report. We are very grateful to all who gave evidence to us.

4. We undertook two visits in connection with this inquiry. In May 2008 we visited Ukraine and Russia, meeting fellow politicians, representatives of the police forces, border guards, immigration officials and other civil servants, and the NGOs working with victims of trafficking in these countries. We also met some of the victims, whose stories deeply moved us. We visited Prague in March 2009 to discuss the Czech government's priorities for its Presidency of the EU, which included an emphasis on combating human trafficking. We would like to thank all those who gave up their time to meet us and explain their work during these visits.

Legislative background and international conventions

5. The legislation relating to human trafficking is complex as it is not all gathered together in one statute. There are also numerous relevant international conventions. We mention here only the main legislation and conventions to which we refer elsewhere in this Report.

6. In relation to trafficking for sexual exploitation, the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which came into force on 1 May 2004, established wide-ranging offences of trafficking of people into, within or from the UK for sexual purposes. Equivalent Scottish provisions are contained in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. Legislative provision relating to trafficking for labour and organ exploitation is contained in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. Under both of these Acts offences carry a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment, which is longer than the maximum sentence in many other European countries. There are also several provisions in the Children Act 1989 which are relevant to the prohibition of trafficking, and the investigation, prosecution and punishment of traffickers. For example, a local authority must investigate if it has a reasonable cause to believe that a child who lives or is found in its area is suffering from harm; Section 49 establishes an offence of knowingly and without lawful authority abducting children; and local authorities are authorised to inspect premises used for private fostering, and may prohibit private fostering under certain circumstances.

7. Other laws applicable to trafficking for both sexual and labour exploitation are:

8. The UK has signed and ratified the UN's Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the 'Palermo Protocol'), which supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime 2000. The UK has also signed and recently ratified the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings. Other international conventions concerning organised crime and sexual offences are also relevant.

The UK Action Plan and UK Human Trafficking Centre

9. In March 2007, following consultation and tying in with the commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade, the Government published its UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking. The purpose of the Action Plan was to:

1. Draw together all the work that is currently underway across government and other agencies on human trafficking

2. Identify gaps in existing work which require further consideration

3. Increase transparency and enable us to be held to account on delivery of our objectives

4. Provide a platform for developing a more strategic and holistic approach to tackling human trafficking.[2]

10. Apart from announcing that the Government had decided to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Action Plan stated that the Government had established a new UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) to forge "closer links between the immigration service and law enforcement" and that "Dealing effectively with human trafficking will be an integral part of the new Border and Immigration Agency's[3] business". The Action Plan also said: "Up to now, our effort has focussed mainly on trafficking for sexual exploitation. We now need to move beyond this and also spotlight other forms of trafficking for increased attention, such as child trafficking and trafficking for forced labour."[4] The Government committed itself to developing its approach to issues of demand: "Firstly, by recognising the different pull factors that apply to different types of human trafficking and building a greater understanding of the demand factors in areas such as trafficking for forced labour. Secondly, through the UKHTC we will consider undertaking specific measures targeted at reducing demand."[5] The Action Plan listed 62 Action Points, allocating specific responsibilities to a variety of government departments and agencies and involving extensive co-operation with NGOs and, in some cases, the private sector.

11. Many of the actions proposed in the Action Plan involve the UKHTC. The UKHTC brings together staff and officers from the police, UKBA, Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Organised Crime Agency and social services. According to the Home Office: "The UKHTC provides a central point for the development of expertise and the strategic and operational coordination in respect of all forms of trafficking of human beings….[It] offers law enforcement a 24/7 support line for tactical, immigration, victim and legal advice and has sought to raise awareness amongst police forces about human trafficking in a number of ways". One of the UKHTC's tasks has been to improve knowledge of the scale and nature of human trafficking. In its written evidence to us, the Home Office describes the UKHTC as "the central repository of all data and intelligence on human trafficking."[6] Another function is increasing public awareness of trafficking, in the hope of identifying and rescuing more victims. It recently ran a 'Blue Blindfold' campaign, including posters on public transport and television advertisements, which had the slogan 'Don't close your eyes to human trafficking'. As far as its operational work is concerned, the UKHTC is organised into five core working groups in the areas of victim care, prevention, research, learning and development and operations and intelligence.[7]

12. Both the Home Office and the UKHTC on its website emphasise the close co-operation between the UKHTC and SOCA. SOCA, however, devotes only 12% of its effort to all organised immigration crime, which includes human trafficking but the majority of which falls into the category of people smuggling.[8]

13. The Home Office told us: "The model of working presented by the UKHTC is already being presented in international forums as an example of best practice. Although only in existence a short time it has established a good reputation both nationally and internationally."[9] To a large extent, this Report provides an analysis of how well the UKHTC is doing in meeting the expectations set out in the Government's Action Plan.

1   Human Trafficking, Twenty-Sixth Report of Session 2005-06 (HL Paper 245, HC 1127) Back

2   Executive Summary, p4 Back

3   Now UKBA, the UK Border Agency Back

4   Executive Summary, p6 Back

5   Executive Summary, p8 Back

6   Ev 192, para 5 Back

7   Ev 202, paras 86-87 Back

8   SOCA's Annual Report 2007-08 For the difference between trafficking and smuggling, see paragraph 16 below. Back

9   Ev 202, paras 87 Back

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Prepared 15 May 2009