LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Legislation alone is not enough to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery, Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May said at a conference in London as she urged the private sector to “play its part”.
“It is absolutely vital that we are all joined up,” May said at the annual TrustWomen conference, an international gathering aimed at putting the rule of law behind women's rights, adding that “never has action been more urgently needed to tackle modern slavery”.
May said companies should make sure there is no instance of exploitation in their supply chain and that they should be confident they are not conducting business with suppliers involved in trafficking.
She also urged non governmental organisations to share with the police the information they gather from working with victims of slavery and trafficking “for the sake of victims and justice”.
“Legislation is only one way of combating this and I want to emphasise the importance of training, awareness and of other non-legislative actions which will make a fundamental difference in how we tackle human trafficking and modern day slavery.”
May has pledged to introduce a new flagship bill – the first of its kind in Europe – to strengthen the UK’s response to trafficking and modern slavery and reduce the number of victims.
“(The Modern Slavery Bill) will clarify legislation and increase sentences ... this would mean that more traffickers are identified, disrupted and brought to justice.”
May told the conference that modern slavery constitutes “a specific abuse of women’s rights” and said the majority of victims are women who are sexually and physically abused during their enslavement.
“This is simply unacceptable in modern-day Britain and we will not let this continue," she added.
She also said a new commissioner dedicated to working on modern slavery would be established and said that she is appointing a panel to make recommendations about the implementation of the bill.
“VICTIMS IN MIND”
In addition to the bill, May said, the British government has launched the National Crime Agency, a body that will work across law enforcement agencies and with the international community to combat trafficking in all its forms.
"The result will be more arrests, more prosecutions but more importantly, more people released from slavery and kept from entering it.”
Britain’s home secretary stressed that all these measures aim to improve the law enforcement response to slavery and have been set up “with the victims very much in mind”.
She said the new UK campaign has the potential to make "a difference in the lives of millions" of people.
It is impossible to know the true scale of modern day slavery in the UK, as well as in the rest of the world, May said.
Last year nearly 1,200 potential victims of human trafficking were referred to the UK central body that collects this information, the National Referral Mechanism, May said. This number is 25 percent higher than in 2011, and is set to increase, she added.
May announced that she will be publishing a new strategic action plan in the spring that sets out what the government is doing to address the issue of modern slavery, which she defined as a “key priority” across the government.
“Modern slavery is a brutal crime which knows no boundaries and doesn’t discriminate on gender or age,” she said.
“Traffickers and slave masters exploit whatever they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into abuse and servitude.
“The steps we’re taking will help this country reach the point where we never ignore this evil.”
For full coverage of the event, visit TrustWomen conference.