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Some implications of using the term ‘modern slavery’

This week we welcome a guest post by Mike Dottridge. The author was the director of Anti-Slavery International between 1996 and 2002. For the past decade he has worked independently as a consultant on human rights and child rights issues. In 2002 Mike was one of the experts invited by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to help prepare a set of Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking(issued by the High Commissioner in May 2002). He is the author of numerous publications on issues linked to exploitation and trafficking, including a UNICEF reference guide on child trafficking. 

It was in August 2013, when UK Home Secretary Theresa May announced that she intended to present a Bill on ‘modern slavery’, that Britain once again began invoking the memory of William Wilberforce and the 200-year old campaign against slavery in its efforts to combat human trafficking. Caroline Parkes has already pointed out weaknesses in the provisions of the draft Bill published last December.

So what are the reasons for and against using the term ‘modern slavery’ to describe the patterns of exploitation occurring in the UK today that many British MPs and other people think should be illegal? (more…)

Crocodile tears

The corridors of Westminster have been echoing with the sound of self-congratulation as the Home Secretary, Theresa May, launched her draft White Paper, which includes the Modern Day Slavery Bill, in Parliament on 16th December. Politicians of all hues rushed to condemn the horrors of human trafficking in the UK today. TTRP will be looking at the Bill in more detail as it progresses through Parliament, but a few aspects stand out. (more…)

Theresa May’s love affair with legislation

Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary, took the quiet summer Parliamentary recess to launch her attack on “modern day slavery”; a tiresome, over-emotive phrase which functions as political speak for human trafficking.  While the contents of her Bill have yet to be released, the press briefings on this proposed legislation promise a number of significant anti-trafficking mechanisms, though information about the actual substance of the proposals is thin.  Firstly, the introduction of trafficking prevention orders, which would function like sexual offence prevention orders, so that an individual convicted of trafficking offences “cannot simply go back to being a gangmaster”.  Secondly, the creation of a Modern Slavery Commissioner, an interesting U-turn as the Government appeared hostile to the idea of a Commissioner, previously arguing that the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group covered the tasks proposed under such a post and that there were no plans to create this a distinct role.  Such a post would, however, increase UK compliance with the EU Directive on Human Trafficking, a positive step forward.  Thirdly, the harmonisation of existing trafficking offences, which are currently scattered across a number of Acts, into a single piece of legislation. Finally, the Bill has the noble aim to “seek a commitment from companies not to use slave labour”. (more…)

Slut-shamed: perpetuating mythologies of (underage) consent

The inevitable media backlash against the trials and convictions of “celebrities” for the sexual exploitation of girls has begun in the UK.  The long-simmering idea that children could be complicit in, and indeed consent to their own abuse, has surfaced.  For example, Eddie Shah, a former owner of the Today newspaper, found not guilty of six counts of rape of a girl under the age of 16, said in an interview:

Rape was a technical thing – below a certain age. But these girls were going out with pop groups and becoming groupies and throwing themselves at them… If we’re talking about girls who just go out and have a good time, then they are to blame.  If we talk about people who go out and actually get ‘raped’ raped, then I feel no … everything should be done against that.

A column by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail focused heavily on the dropping of sexual offences charges against another entertainer, Jim Davidson, accusing the associated police operation, Yewtree, of becoming a witch-hunt.  These public pronouncements, notably by men, have been matched by worrying developments in a recent sexual assault case in which the prosecuting barrister, Robert Colover, described the 13-year-old victim as “predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.”  The defendant was found guilty of sexual activity with a child, among other offences, but was given a suspended sentence.  Criticism, including from the Lord Chief Justice, was levelled at the judge in the case for his comments at sentencing that the victim “looked and behaved older”, a factor he took into account when deciding the sentence.  (more…)

Making the cut: blacklisting in the UK

Blacklisting is rearing its ugly head again in the UK.  The Scottish Affairs Committee published its interim report in April on the, supposedly historical, practice of blacklisting in the construction industry.  Blacklisting in this context involved placing construction workers on a list because they were part of a union, undertook union activities or raised health and safety concerns.  This list was then circulated to potential employers, so they knew which workers to avoid employing.  In a number of cases, the information provided was wholly false.  What makes blacklisting significant is not only that it has taken such a long time for victims to access any kind of justice, but that so many questions remain unanswered and that, despite legislative and policy efforts to prevent it, the practice still seems to be a feature of life in the construction industry.  For example, allegations have surfaced in Scotland that 28 workers were recently sacked for trade union activity and raising basic health and safety concerns by BFK, a conglomerate of construction companies holding substantial public sector contracts that are believe to include one with Transport Scotland, which builds Scotland’s road network.    (more…)

Economized: working towards the lowest common denominator

TTRP has been focusing on the impact of the financial crisis on employment and exploitation in the UK.  We have looked at its effect on young people obliged to take unpaid internships in the face of a rising inability to access the labour market and at the Government’s attempts to get those in receipt of job seekers allowance to take on unpaid work as a method of retaining this unemployment benefit.  The pressure on poorly paid workers in the UK is steadily increasing through a combination of a “race to the bottom” by businesses to reduce costs and the need by Government to reduce public spending.

For example, one approach has been to reduce public sector employment as the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlights, “The overall level of public sector employment fell by about 300,000, or 5%, between 2010 and 2012…” The National Health Service (NHS) has been particularly badly hit with 50,000 jobs to be cut between 2011-2015; research showed that “nearly every [NHS] trust in the country admitted that they planned to shed staff over the next four years, with some losing up to one in five employees”.  The impact of these cuts was examined in a recent report by Oxfam, which found that half a million people in the UK are now reliant on food banks.  The authors commented

Some of the increase in the number of people using food banks is caused by unemployment, increasing levels of underemployment, low and falling income, and rising food and fuel prices. The National Minimum Wage and benefits levels need to rise in line with inflation, in order to ensure that families retain the ability to live with dignity and can afford to feed and clothe themselves and stay warm. (more…)

Extended misery: punishing victims

April proved to be a trying month for the UK Government’s relationship with Europe on the issue of human trafficking.  The deadline for the implementation of Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims was in mid-April and, as organisations such as ECPAT have been advocating, the Government is continuing to fail to put in place adequate measures to protect victims of trafficking from prosecution.  The Directive establishes minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions in human trafficking and seeks to improve the protection of victims.  An examination of recent cases before the Court of Appeal have shown that implicit in the UK’s approach to this issue is the fact that victims are not being identified at an early enough stage in the criminal justice process. (more…)