Immigration Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by Oxford Against Slavery (IB 43)

1. Oxford Against Slavery (OAS) is a rights group which specialises in issues of forced labour and trafficking. It is a member of the Oxford Hub’s Rights and Development Network.

2. The term ‘modern slavery’ will be used throughout this document to refer to the phenomena of trafficking and forced labour. Although a legal distinction is often made between the two, in this instance it is appropriate to use this inclusive term to reference the general practice of depriving a person of their freedom for the purpose of exploitation.

Summary of submission

3. Although the majority of this Bill is outside of OAS’s area of expertise, there are several key elements of the Bill that we believe relate strongly to issues of modern slavery. A number of its provisions will serve to: (a) Undermine the neutrality of labour inspection, and subsequently compromise the ability of the relevant authorities to identify and assist victims of modern slavery, (b) further marginalize vulnerable groups, pushing them into the hands of exploitative employers, (c) deprive potential victims the opportunity to be properly identified as victims of human trafficking. OAS fears that these effects of the Bill will undermine some of the important gains made with the passing of the Modern Slavery Act earlier this year.

(a) Labour inspection and the erosion of trust

4. In theory OAS supports the idea of increased regulation of labour standards. However, we are concerned that the role of the Director of Labour Market Enforcement (as proposed in Part One of the Bill) is not sufficiently separated from immigration enforcement. The fact that the issues of labour inspection and illegal working are presented under the same heading leads us to question the degree of autonomy that will be granted to the Director.

5. It is our belief that effective labour inspection can only be carried out if the duties of the inspector are confined to the rights of workers. A conflict in aims may arise if labour inspection is tied too closely with immigration enforcement, as it often those with uncertain immigration status that are most vulnerable to exploitation.

6. It is for this reason that the International Labour Organization’s Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) – which the UK has ratified – explicitly prohibits practicing labour inspectors from being charged with duties beyond labour inspection. [1]

7. In the United States there is a memorandum of understanding signed between the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor to ensure that the work of the former does not compromise the work of the latter. [2] Here the importance of impartial labour inspection is acknowledged in a manner that is vital for identifying cases of forced labour.

8. Recommendation: OAS supports the following amendments (both proposed by the committee on 22 October) which will help promote effective labour inspection. The proposed amendments are listed below, with our editions denoted by square brackets:

a. Clause   1 ,  page   1 ,  line   6 ,  after subsection (1) insert – "The primary [we would further suggest replacing primary with ‘sole’] purpose of the Director of Labour Market Enforcement is to secure the enforcement of labour market legislation, as defined in Section 3(3) of this Act . "

b. Clause   3 ,  page   3 ,  line   33 ,  at end insert – "A person is not prevented from being a worker, or a person seeking work, for the purposes of this section by reason of the fact that he [or she] has no right to be, or to work, in the United Kingdom."

Though far from a perfect solution these two amendments are a very small step towards making the role of the Director of Labour Market Enforcement more clearly focused on workers’ rights, and ensuring individuals are not left open to exploitation because of their immigration status.

9. Additionally Clause 8 ‘offence of illegal working’ will have substantial consequences for the identification of modern slavery victims.

10. The Home Office’s Review of the National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking concedes that there is already a strong resistance to referral amongst human trafficking victims. In some cases officials reported that almost 50% of potential victims refused to be referred through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) out of a distrust for the authorities. [3]

11. Many victims of trafficking are brought into the country illegally or have their passports confiscated upon arrival, and so will be aware that if they are referred but are unable to prove their status as a victim of trafficking they may face a prison term of up to 51 weeks. This will undoubtedly discourage many genuine victims from coming forward, and make the mandate of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner considerably more difficult.

12. Recommendation: OAS thus opposes clauses 8 of the Bill.

(b) Making potential victims of modern slavery more vulnerable

13. OAS is concerned that by rescinding some of the assistance that was previously available to failed asylum seekers this Bill may create a cohort of vulnerable persons who would be especially at risk to exploitation and modern slavery.

14. OAS shares the concerns presented by the UNHCR in its submission relating to the reclassification of failed asylum seekers outlined in clause 34, schedule 6, and clauses 94 and 95. It is unnecessary to restate the UNHCR’s evidence in relation to these particular clauses, though it is important to add that our support for the UNHCR’s proposals is due to their implications for potential victims of modern slavery. Many failed asylum seekers (who do not meet the provisions of clause 95(a)) may be deprived of support from the government, whilst simultaneously being forbidden from working in the country. Thus, with no means to support themselves, these persons make prime targets for exploitative employers and traffickers.

15. Recommendation: OAS thus supports the UNHCR’s case for increased care for failed asylum seekers, on the grounds that they may otherwise be vulnerable to modern slavery.

(c) Insufficient time for correct identification of modern slavery victims

16. OAS believes that limitations to the right to appeal from within the United Kingdom will lead to a number of genuine victims being deported before they have been correctly identified.

17. The Home Office’s Review of the National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking acknowledges that:
"awareness of the National Referral Mechanism and trafficking is less well established than it should be amongst frontline staff. Far too often a victim is dependent on whom they meet [and] how well trained those people might be [] stakeholders consulted from across the system agree that victims may be seen in terms of their other needs [] an immigration enforcement officer may see an illegal worker and a police officer may see an offender." [4]

18. Additionally the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Strategy Plan stated that at present "many forces fail to correctly record and investigate modern slavery crimes." [5]

19. Both documents makes clear that awareness of how to identify modern slavery amongst frontline staff is severely lacking.

20. Furthermore victims of modern slavery almost always have their passport and document confiscated by their exploiter, and are often trafficked into the country illegally, meaning that to an immigration officer they may seem to be illegal migrants. Thus far too often victims are treated as illegal migrants first, and victims of slavery second.

21. If genuine victims are deported before they have the opportunity to appeal a negative decision on the grounds of the provisions of the Modern Slavery Act, they are likely to be re-trafficked when they return to their country of origin and so deprived of the chance to launch an appeal.

22. The ‘deport first appeal later’ attitude of the Bill (specifically seen in clauses 31 and 32) is thus deeply worrying and will result in the premature deportation of countless unidentified victims of modern slavery.

23. Recommendation: OAS opposes Clauses 31 and 32.

November 2015


[1] International Labour Organization No. 81, Concerning Inspection in Industry and Commerce, Geneva, 1995.

[2] US Department of Homeland Security, Revised Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Homeland Security and labor Concerning Enforcement Activities at Works, Washington D.C., 2011.

[3] Home Office, Review of the National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking, November 2014, p. 20.

[4] Home Office, Review of the National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking, November 2014, p. 17.

[5] K. Hyland, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Strategic Plan 2015–2017, 2015, p. 2

Prepared 18th November 2015