1.On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Home Office (the Department), the National Crime Agency and the independent anti-slavery commissioner on reducing modern slavery.
2.Modern slavery encompasses slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour and human trafficking. Traffickers, often part of organised crime groups, coerce, deceive and force individuals into activities against their will through abuse and inhumane treatment. Modern slavery victims are among the most vulnerable people in our society and can be hesitant to seek help due to their fear of traffickers. Although modern slavery is considered a ‘hidden’ crime, many victims can be working or otherwise visible in the community, in a range of places such as car washes, nail bars and construction sites.
3.The Department is responsible for managing the UK’s response to tackling modern slavery. In 2014, it estimated that there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2013. In 2014, the Department introduced the Modern Slavery Strategy with the aim of significantly reducing the prevalence of modern slavery in the UK. This was followed by the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, which introduced new measures to enable departments, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to implement the strategy. The Act also included the appointment of the independent anti-slavery commissioner to encourage good practice in preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting modern slavery offences and in identifying victims.
4.There are a wide range of organisations involved in delivering the strategy and in 2016, the Prime Minister introduced a modern slavery taskforce to coordinate the response to modern slavery across government. The National Crime Agency is responsible for leading the law enforcement response to modern slavery, including intelligence gathering.
5.The Department funds and manages the process for identifying victims, known as the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). It introduced the NRM in 2009 to meet the UK’s obligations under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. In 2016 there were 3,805 referrals to the NRM. The Department is also responsible for overseeing the contract which provides support to potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in England and Wales. The contract is currently run by the Salvation Army and its 12 subcontractors.
6.We recognise that the UK is ahead of a number of other countries in tackling modern slavery. However, although the government’s stated aim is to reduce significantly the prevalence of modern slavery, the Department has not set out how such a reduction could be measured and the Department’s only estimate of the prevalence of modern slavery still relates to 2013. The Department told us that the estimate was based on a set of methodologies and data which are no longer available and that “When there is no direct way of measuring a population and a hidden population, it is really difficult to give a prevalence estimate with any great confidence”. We therefore asked the Department how it knew it was achieving a reduction in prevalence. The Department acknowledged that it needed to do more on establishing its performance framework and to measure success against the strategy. It stated that in the six months prior to our evidence session, it had developed an enhanced performance framework that is used by the Prime Minister’s taskforce. However, we note that this does not include targets and the Department said that this was because it first wanted to establish a stable baseline, and any targets set would be better informed in six to 12 months time.
7.The Department told us that it is currently looking to develop its performance framework to make it more holistic, as the framework currently focuses on law enforcement, with less information about the victim and how they progress through the system. We asked how the Department was establishing a stable baseline against which to measure success. The Department gave us some examples of activities it has already undertaken, including the establishment of a Joint Strategic Analysis Centre (JSTAC), and producing a report into the typology of modern slavery, but said that the planned digitisation of the NRM would enable it to understand the scale of the crime in a much more sophisticated way. The National Crime Agency told us that it knew that there are now more UK nationality victims than it previously thought.
8.The Department has not calculated the total amount it spends on tackling modern slavery each year or brought together all the budgets for tackling modern slavery across government. The Department told us that it is “very difficult” and “almost impossible” to identify all public spending on modern slavery from individual departments. It said that while the Department held the overall responsibility for policy in this area, the Accounting Officer of each government department and agency had responsibility for its spending on tackling modern slavery. In response to our concern that the Department was therefore not able identify any overlaps or ways that money could be used more effectively, the Department acknowledged that it could pull together more of a picture on the programmes that are specifically related to modern slavery across government. It undertook to look at cross-government finance under the ‘coherence plan’ of the senior responsible officer in the Cabinet Office who had recently been appointed by the National Security Adviser. The Department agreed to explore other models that might help it look at the totality of funding across government on tackling modern slavery.
9.Accountability for delivering the modern slavery strategy is unclear, with no all-encompassing governance structure, and tackling modern slavery was not set up as a coherent programme. We asked the Department why it had not mapped out the roles and responsibilities of organisations involved. The Department acknowledged that it needs better coherence in the whole programme of modern slavery. It told us that the newly appointed senior responsible officer in the Cabinet Office will co-ordinate and ensure coherence across the modern slavery programme, including mapping the roles and responsibilities across government.
10.The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires companies with a turnover of more than £36 million to produce a statement on slavery and human trafficking each year setting out the steps the organisation has taken to ensure that modern slavery is not taking place in their business or supply chain, including if the organisation has taken no steps. The UK was among the first in the world to introduce legislation of this kind. However, as at October 2017, the Modern Slavery Registry (produced by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre) held around 3,000 statements out of an estimated 9,000–11,000 businesses that the Department estimates the legislation applies to. We also received written evidence pointing to the ineffective implementation of the Transparency in Supply Chains clause of the legislation, including from the Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE) and the Co-op Group. CORE described, for example, research showing that, even when businesses have produced a statement, they often fail to comply even with the minimum requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
11.We were interested in the Department’s assessment of how many organisations this legislation applied to and how many had published a statement. The Department told us that it does not have a list of all the eligible organisations but it has written to 10,000 that it thinks may be eligible. It explained that it does not monitor the publication of the statements; instead, it relies on two NGO run registries which collate statements. The Department could not say what figure of compliance it would expect in the future.
12.The Department’s approach has been to work in partnership with businesses, to share best practice and to raise awareness of the requirement. The Department told us that it has the ability to issue an injunction to companies who do not comply with the legislation, but it had not yet used these powers. It said that it was “open to the conversation” about government’s role in monitoring and enforcing compliance and that its preference for encouragement rather than punishment was “not a static position from the Home Office”. The independent anti-slavery commissioner and the Department told us that gender pay gap publications were an example of practice elsewhere in government from which they were looking to learn.
13.We were interested in what impact the Department anticipated Brexit would have on its systems for tackling modern slavery. The Department confirmed that it would have no impact in terms of government’s legal duty to care for victims and it undertook to write to us on the specific Brexit impacts it anticipated. The Department has identified that one potential impact will be its ability to arrange time for parliament to consider any new modern slavery legislation. The National Crime Agency told us that, on behalf of law enforcement, it has been running an operational group that considers the consequences of Brexit. It identified that there is a risk in relation to intelligence sharing, including how quickly the UK could share intelligence within or outside of Europol.
1 Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, , Session 2017–19, HC 630, 15 December 2017
2 , para 1
3 , paras 2–3
4 , para 3, Figure 5
5 , paras 17, 2.2, Figure 1
6 Q 4
7 , para 8–9
8 Q 5
9 Q 13
10 Q 37; , para 1.5
11 Q 14
12 Qq 37–38; Home Office, , October 2017
13 Q 9
14 , para 1.7
15 Q 41
16 Q 46
17 Qq 51, 52
18 , para 11
19 Qq 19–20
20 , para 1.13
21 Qq 63, 88; , para 1.14
22 Q 68; (RMS0009); (RMS0002)
23 Qq 56–60, Q 69
24 Q 87
25 Q 68
26 Qq 68, 84
27 Qq 67, Q77
28 Qq 112–113
29 Qq 114–115
Published: 2 May 2018