The National Crime Agency (NCA) recently launched a campaign to tackle modern slavery in the UK, after figures were released suggesting that incidences of this crime are more prevalent than previously thought.
According to the NCA there are currently more than 300 live police operations targeting modern slavery underway in the UK. In May and June alone, police activity targeting labour and sexual exploitation led to 111 arrests and the discovery of 130 potential victims.
The term ‘modern slavery’ incorporates a number of different offences, including human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, including sexual or criminal exploitation. The NCA’s campaign aims to raise awareness of these crimes and encourage more members of the public to contact the authorities if they suspect someone they know is involved, either as a victim or perpetrator.
Early indications suggest the campaign has been successful in increasing the public’s awareness of modern slavery. The Guardian reports that calls to a modern slavery hotline run by charity Unseen doubled during the week following the publication of the NCA’s report – from an average of 75 calls per week to 150.
However, concerns have been raised over whether there are sufficient resources across the country to effectively deal with the problem. Raising awareness is important, but ultimately will not make much difference if police forces are not sufficiently resourced to take the necessary action.
The BBC recently reported on nine family members who were convicted and received long term sentences for enslaving 18 vulnerable adult men, aged between 18 and 63, who had been targeted by the defendants from various locations across the UK. The case at Nottingham Crown Court was part of Lincolnshire Police's Operation Pottery investigation, which started in 2014.
The Independent and Evening Standard have recently launched a joint investigation into modern slavery in London, where the police believe that tens of thousands are being kept captive in sub-human conditions, forced to work impossible hours for little or no pay. The newspapers hope to expose modern slavery, inform the government on how to combat it, as well as make demands on the government to bring the abusers to justice and offer protection for the abused.
Impact of Brexit
An additional concern over the UK’s ability to effectively tackle modern slavery centres on the potential impact of Brexit.
The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, a coalition of anti-trafficking organisations, led by Anti-Slavery International, has highlighted that the UK’s law-enforcement organisations do not operate in isolation when dealing with trafficking offences, but instead work closely with European mechanisms such as Interpol and Europol.
“The UK has strongly benefitted in its efforts against trafficking from measures that these EU mechanisms facilitate, such as intelligence sharing with the source countries, criminal databases, so-called Joint Investigation Teams to carry out trans-national investigations, and European Arrest Warrants,” Dr Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, recently stated. “Britain could lose access to all of them after Brexit.”
“Theresa May made fighting modern slavery her flagship project, but she risks undermining it if she goes ahead with her plans to quit the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) because of the threat this poses to continued security and criminal justice cooperation,” he added. “Given the international nature of modern slavery this would be a disaster for the UK’s anti-trafficking work, and ultimately would increase the risk of vulnerable people falling victims of vicious criminals.”
To minimise the impact of Brexit on the UK’s ability to police modern slavery crimes effectively, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group has made a number of recommendations for the UK Government, including taking all necessary steps to ensure continued access to European criminal justice and security measures. It also recommends that the UK accept some measure of jurisdiction of the CJEU to facilitate continued cooperation across Europe.
The NCA’s campaign, together with the resulting media interest, has undoubtedly raised awareness of modern slavery and increased the likelihood of detection and investigation. If you have been charged with modern slavery offences, or are currently under investigation, then contact our specialist criminal defence lawyers today.
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.