Church of England gives evidence to Modern Slavery Bill Committee

On 21st July 2014, the Church of England’s Foreign Policy Adviser, Dr Charles Reed, gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee for the Government’s Modern Slavery Bill. The transcript of the evidence session, at which Dr Reed and Cecilia Taylor-Camara (Head of the Bishops Conference Office for Migration Policy, Catholic Bishops for England and Wales) gave evidence, is reproduced in full below.

Dr Charles Reed, Foreign Policy Adviser, Church of England
Dr Charles Reed, Foreign Policy Adviser, Church of England

Q 24 The Chair:  For this session we have until 4.45 pm. Will the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: I am Cecilia Taylor-Camara, senior policy adviser to the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

The Chair:  I ask the witnesses to speak up a little. This is rather a large room and the sound is not brilliant, so please shout if necessary.

Dr Reed: I am Charles Reed, international policy adviser for the Church of England. 

Q 25 Michael Connarty:  The Bill as drafted does not contain any measure on corporate supply chains. Should it contain a measure on corporate supply chains? Will you say why, and what it should be?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: Mindful of the growing knowledge and recognition of the potential for modern day slavery in companies and global operations and their supply chains, we believe that the Bill should clearly have a measure on corporate supply chains so that it gives consumers the choice and the opportunity to make informed choices of what they buy. If we look along the lines of what has been happening in parishes across England and Wales, there has been a massive campaign for Fairtrade goods. We believe that we can promote slave-free products and services in our parishes across England and Wales. Currently, the United States bishops conference is working to support legislation. It would be very easy for us to use our international networks to galvanise support for any Bill of that nature, so that consumers are clear that the products and services they purchase are slave free.

Dr Reed: I want to support that. I would go further and say that we are not going to be able to combat human trafficking and the wider evil unless we tackle the issue in our own business supply chains. There is much in the Bill that we like and want to recommend but unless we have a provision that can target the business supply chains, it will fall short of the ambitions that Parliament has in this particular area. It would be more than easy for a simple change to the Companies Act 2006 to take the matter on.

Q 26 Michael Connarty:  May I follow up? You said, Dr Reed, that it would be enough. There has been quite a bit of evidence, from Luis CdeBaca, the US ambassador at large on human trafficking, for example, and others, that it requires something much stronger—something like the California Act. That is quite clearly a mandatory imposition on companies to audit and report on their supply chains. Others argue that the Companies Act is too weak, and that it is only for quoted companies, so the measure will not get the attention it requires if we put it into the Companies Act. How do you feel? It should be mandatory, but should it be stronger than just the Companies Act?

Dr Reed: We need to take an incremental approach. We need to set out in principle the reason why tackling business supply chains is so important. I think a light-touch regulatory approach, to begin with, would be a radical thing to achieve and would lay the basis for further amendments at a later point. I should think that there is much to commend the California Act, but it is a quite complicated Act—the Joint Committee acknowledged that in its report.

Also, the Home Secretary would I think acknowledge that changes already made to the Companies Act last year were intended to cover business supply chains; so all a further measure would do is conserve that within the provisions of the Bill.

Michael Connarty:  Do you want to respond to the same question?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: The example I have here is the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2014, the United States Act. The Act requires

“companies with annual worldwide gross receipts exceeding one hundred million dollars”

to put in an annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission any efforts they are making to address forced labour, child labour, human trafficking and modern-day slavery in their supply chains. Also, information would be made available to the public on the internet in an easily searchable format.

If enough companies advertise on their websites that they are free from slave and child labour, that could influence any individual going into, let us say, a supermarket or anywhere with electrical products. In the fashion industry people would be able to make clear, informed decisions as to what to spend money on.

Q 27 Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab):  I want to ask both witnesses a couple of questions on the anti-slavery commissioner. The functions of the proposed commissioner are restricted to galvanising law enforcement and identifying victims. Should the commissioner also have responsibility for victim support, do you think?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: I think the commissioner should also be responsible for victim support. It gives a holistic approach to the entire initiative, so that the commissioner is not only concerned with law enforcement and working with the parties—victim support is actually at the centre of that work.

We have a Home Secretary who is interested in the Bill, currently—she has put a lot of energy in and she is passionate about the Bill; but what if we do not have one who is really interested? Where would that lead us? It will be helpful if the role of the commissioner is independent of Government, and if victim support is at the centre of the commissioner’s functions.

Dr Reed: I would merely add to that, that various representatives from the police, whom we actually work with, always make the case that combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery requires more than a law and order approach; it is very much about providing support to victims and ensuring that they can come forward to give evidence. So trying to include within the remit a role which actually enables that commissioner to look at the rights of the victim, and ensure the widest possible partnership across the board, would, I think, make a hugely important addition to the Bill.

Q 28 Phil Wilson:  Do you think the commissioner’s role is sufficiently independent from Government, as laid down in the Bill?

Dr Reed: That is actually something that this Committee will have to come to a mind on. From the Church of England’s perspective we are quite interested in the model which is presented by the Children’s Commissioner and whether it might be an alternative approach that the Bill can take on. At the end of the day, I feel that what we want is for the commissioner to have a champion within Whitehall—a Department where it is actually backed and properly owned, but without necessarily being tied to that Department in terms of its remit. The remit of the commissioner must be broad to enable them to launch inquiries if they think it necessary, without being curtailed by the Home Secretary.

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: On the functions of the commissioner, we recommend that the current wording in clause 35(2) should be changed from “may” to “must” in this sentence:

“The things that the Commissioner may do in pursuance of subsection (1)”.

I believe that changing the word “may” to “must” would make it mandatory that the commissioner performs those functions.

Q 29 Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con):  I thank our witnesses for coming along today. May I pick up on the point you just made? Clause 35(2)(f) states that the commissioner may co-operate with or work

“jointly with other persons, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.”

May I take your views on the extent to which the Bill promotes the right level of work across Government? Domestically, what do the commissioner, the Secretary of State and the relevant authorities need to do to work together inside the British Government, and what do they need to do in relation to the “elsewhere” part? You both have extensive international experience. What does Britain need to do to co-operate internationally to make this kind of work a reality?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: Our approach is through the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. For example, in June, Detective Kevin Hyland—now retired—and I went to Lithuania to speak to the Lithuanian Parliament about the model of co-operation that has developed between the Catholic Bishops Conference and the metropolitan police services. At the end of the presentation, there was a little group just outside the Parliament already discussing the issue, which gave an undertaking that somebody was to be assigned to do the drafting on how the Church can collaborate with law enforcement. Those small models can be replicated around the world.

Similarly, after our conference in Rome on combating human trafficking, which brought together law enforcement agencies from about 26 countries and bishops from about 17 countries, the United States bishops conference was approached by law enforcement to see how they can work together. If law enforcement and the Church can work together, I am sure those models can be replicated in other parts of the world, and I am sure many Governments will benefit from sharing examples of good practice in combating human trafficking.

Q 30 Chloe Smith:  May I press you on the domestic nature of the issue? Clause 42 states:

“The Secretary of State must issue guidance to such public authorities”

in order to do the three things set out in the clause. What do you think is the domestic requirement there? What authorities need to be involved?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: The intergovernmental Departments must come together and have training opportunities together so we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. We must understand the issues and build scenarios about what traffickers might be planning for the future. Just as law enforcement is putting this Bill together, people in the trafficking world are looking at and scrutinising everything, as you yourselves are doing, so they can counter some of the provisions that are being made. Really, we need to be working several steps ahead of the traffickers to ensure the legislation works for the United Kingdom and becomes a template for other people—for example, those in the Commonwealth.

Q 31 Chloe Smith:  When we are outside this room, it would be helpful if you could tell us whether you have a sense of what steps we should be looking at right now.

Dr Reed: In terms of the international context, I want to draw your attention to two areas. First, we need to look at the complexity of the business supply chains, which are not national or even European, but international and global. Therefore, we need to look at this problem in a global context.

Secondly, we need to look at what is driving this trend. That means looking at the causes of poverty and the unrealistic aspirations that some people have in terms of quality of life here in the UK and how that human desire for a better life is played on in an unfortunate way. I think that looking at just those two areas would need the commissioners to work in partnership with the Department for International Development and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That is why it is important for the commissioner to be based in a Department, but the remit needs to be much wider.

Q 32 Sarah Champion:  I have two questions on identification and support for victims. Does clause 41, on advocates, make adequate provision for the representation and support of child victims of trafficking?

Dr Reed: That is not an area on which I feel competent to comment, but I am happy to talk to colleagues and provide a note if that would be helpful.

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: I think that the provision in clause 41(1) must be mandatory on the Secretary of State. It says:

“The Secretary of State may make arrangements to enable persons—‘child trafficking advocates’—to be available”

but we may recommend a change in the wording from “may” to “must”, so that they are available for every child.

Q 33 Sarah Champion:  Should the Bill put the national referral mechanism on a statutory footing?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: That is an area that I am not terribly versed in.

Dr Reed: That is an area that we would like to see put on a statutory basis. At the moment the NRM is very much an internal process of the Home Office with no real transparency or appeal mechanism, and putting it on a statutory footing would give it better authority to support the victims. I am aware, however, that the NRM is under review and it would be interesting to know when the interim report will be out and how that will be fed into the Committee’s deliberations.

Q 34 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Karen Bradley):  Thank you for attending. I want to look at two areas: one is UK focused and one is cross-border. You referred to other commissioners—we have the Children’s Commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner—but how do you envisage an anti-slavery commissioner interacting with the existing commissioners to ensure that the existing support is passed out to the victims as needed?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: The roles can be complementary, especially when it comes to handling children, so that there is no duplication of resources and effort. It is, however, important that the anti-slavery commissioner is given that mandate, independent of government, to provide what support he or she deems appropriate to serve the best interests of the children.

Q 35 Karen Bradley:  How do you see that working with the Victims’ Commissioner and Children’s Commissioner? Obviously we do not want to duplicate and recreate the roles of the existing commissioners, but we must ensure that the victims are supported.

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: Because human trafficking is so fluid and continues to manifest itself in different ways, areas might come up in which the other commissioners might not be able to be hands-on, whereas the anti-slavery commissioner will be particularly focused on those issues as they come up. We are very clear how sometimes Departments can be in competition for resources, so it is important that the anti-slavery commissioner is empowered to handle the areas that fall within their remit, whether there is an overlap or not. I am acutely aware that there may be overlaps; however, mindful of the changing nature of human trafficking, the anti-slavery commissioner really should be empowered and given all the support so that there is no overlap.

Karen Bradley:  Do you have any views on that, Dr Reed?

Dr Reed: Not more than that, no.

Q 36 Karen Bradley:  On the international side of things, there have been several discussions on the transparency of supply chains, about which we legislated to ensure that human rights are respected within supply chains, and since October last year all companies have to report on that. What else do you think needs to be done from a legislative perspective, and how much can be done through working with businesses? Linked to that, how much can both Churches help businesses to identify forced labour within the supply chain, and also help to identify victims before they are trafficked into the UK, particularly as both of you have international networks?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: One of the areas that we are working in is to provide information and materials for our Catholic networks around the world. In 2012, the bishops recommended designating a day of prayer to remember victims of human trafficking, and survivors and those who work with them. That is an effort to raise awareness globally. Last year, in 2013, the Catholic Bishops Conference celebrated the day of prayer and we distributed information and materials within the UK.

This year, 2014, we went further afield to distribute materials to all the Catholic bishops, particularly in Africa where they might have challenges in developing materials. The United States bishops conference also adopted the day of prayer in an effort to raise awareness, so in raising awareness of the realities of human trafficking, we are making people aware even before they are trafficked. The information will set out the indicators and what you need to look for. Also, the parishes and parish priests can initiate the discussion on what it means to travel overseas so that people can make an informed choice and be very clear what they are heading for.

In the prelude to the Olympics, we made it very clear that the Olympics was approaching and there was a possibility that people might be genuinely recruited for services overseas, or at least they would believe they were being genuinely recruited. But that might not be the reality, so people were encouraged to be aware when they were approached and given offers of job opportunities overseas, and bishops conferences across the world discussed among themselves how to take this agenda forward.

We approached the Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops in the European Union to share our experiences of working in human trafficking to highlight some of the areas that we thought they needed to be aware of, and we have had invitations from individual bishops conferences so that this information can be shared. If we can work within the Church and make people aware, I am sure we can work with companies from some of those countries and work across borders.

Dr Reed: We are certainly doing exactly the same type of work in terms of raising awareness within our own Church at a parish level. We are also trying to identify the tell-tale signs and seeing how that is then referred to the appropriate people. We are looking at providing pastoral support to victims as well and ensuring that their own dignity is restored. We are also looking at using the Church’s networks on a European and international basis to ensure that when people are returned home, there is somebody waiting for them at the airport to ensure that they can be properly reintegrated back into their community. We cannot just feed the actual machine; we need to find a way to break the cycle itself.

We also need to recognise that, as a Church, we are also a corporation; we have investments and our own business supply chains. We need to ensure that our own business supply chains come free of trafficking. That is going to be a long and drawn-out process. As I think the Bishop of Derby would acknowledge, we ought to celebrate each time we find that, and say that it is a positive thing that we have come across, and then actually move on.

That is why I think it is not just a voluntary approach. That is important, but there is a need to ensure that there is a level playing field for all corporations and businesses. That is why I think a small change—maybe including five words within the Companies Act to ensure that, when you are referring to human rights, you are also referring to business supply chains—would have a transformative effect here in the UK. It would also have a catalytic effect internationally, more so on those countries that have a common-law approach and their own Companies Act. That, in itself, would be one of the major benefits of the Bill as a whole.

The simplification and codification of the law are important, but we need to go beyond that; we need to be more ambitious. Tackling the business supply chains through a simple change to the Companies Act would be a wonderful achievement. It is something that businesses—certainly those we have been talking to—would actively want to see. As you know, there is a political narrative saying that we need to cut regulation and so on, but I think this is an area where businesses would very much welcome an intervention by Parliament. That is because, at the end of the day, no director wants to be complicit in a practice like this.

Q 37 Diana Johnson:  May I ask whether you are at all concerned about the fact that the definition of human trafficking in the Bill is not compliant with the definitions of the EU and the International Labour Organisation, in terms of the international perspective that you are both obviously aware of? The question is about the terms that are used, which are not the same as what other EU states would be looking at when referring to human trafficking offences. We recognise that the problem is worldwide, so it is about getting some consistency. Do you have anything to say on that?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: The definition with which I am familiar—the UN definition—is all-encompassing. If that becomes a template, it should be easier to enforce, as opposed to differences in definition. That is my view on the definition.

Dr Reed: The EU directive can be interpreted in a number of ways. I will just have to see how that materialises over the coming years, and see whether that introduces an unfortunate degree of ambiguity. My hope is that the Bill that Parliament passes would set the standard for other European countries. As far as I can see, it is pretty consistent with the convention and the EU directive.

Q 38 Diana Johnson:  May I ask Cecilia the question that my colleague asked earlier about child advocates? Can you say something about your understanding of child guardians? A lot of people think that a child guardian would be able to act in the best interests of a child, which is different from a child advocate, who acts on the instructions of their client, the child. Can you say whether you think that is an issue?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: One of the cases that comes to mind was very high-profile, where a child was brought into this country to be looked after and supported by a guardian, but actually she was enslaved and died. It was a case in Haringey. That is one of the reasons why I would advocate for a child advocate, who is independent. In some of the examples that we are aware of, the children in care continue to have contact with the guardian, and sometimes they disappear.

Q 39 Diana Johnson:  May I interrupt? I am referring to the legal definition of guardian. I understand what you are saying about that particular case involving a guardian, but what I am trying to get at is the legal definition used by local authorities currently of a child guardian who can act in the best interests of a child. A child advocate is slightly different because they act on instruction of the child. I am trying to tease out, under clause 41, whether you feel that having a child advocate is sufficient for children who have been trafficked, or whether you think a guardian might be a better way forward.

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: The advocate is good, but it should be extended. So for children—not only those in slavery or servitude but those exploited and subjected to forced or compulsory labour—there should be an extension of the remit of the child advocate. What I would actually support is the child advocate.

Q 40 Diana Johnson:  May I ask about the victims’ defence, under clause 39? I wondered what your views were about schedule 3, which lists all the offences where the statutory defence would not apply. The Bill is about offering support and protection to victims. What do you feel about clause 39 and schedule 3?

Dr Reed: I have to admit that that is not an area that I feel competent to comment on, but I am happy to provide you with a note after I have talked to relevant colleagues.

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: At this stage, maybe not. I do not want to venture an opinion on that, because I am not particularly clear what needs to be done in that area.

Q 41 Diana Johnson:  Do you feel that there should be specific offences in the Bill relating to children?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: Given the vulnerability of children, there ought to be distinct provisions in the Bill concerning child victims of modern slavery. That is the view that I hold. The Bill might be an opportunity to examine how UK adoption laws could be tightened and made child slavery-free.

Dr Reed: I think that in an ideal world, yes, we would like to see changes made. However, I think that we are also realistic about what can be achieved in legislation. We are also conscious of the fact that there is a danger of turning the Bill into a bit of a Christmas tree, and of the cross-party consensus that has been built up on this beginning to fray around the edges. That is where we come back to the importance of getting the role and remit of the commissioner right as far as possible. If you get the role and the remit right, other public good will emerge from that. In that sense, we would like to see the Committee and Parliament giving more attention to the ways in which the commissioner can be made truly independent and also given the powers to cast a spotlight on areas such as children and bring forward recommendations at a later point.

Diana Johnson:  May I say that the cross-party joint Committee took the view that the Bill should contain offences specifically to do with children? There was cross-party agreement on that. My colleague here was on the Committee, so I am sure that he could speak to that.

Q 42 Michael Connarty:  I wanted to make a remark on maintaining consensus. Sir Andrew and I sat on the Committee, and what was drafted, in fact, was all of those offences. After quite learned submissions from Peter Carter QC, who we will hear from later, and from Lord Judge, it was quite clear that they both thought that the offence against children was much stronger and should be marked out as a specific offence with, probably, a higher tariff. That was in the joint submission, about which there was consensus across the House and across the parties. That has been broken by the Government, not by the joint Committee.

Can I ask a broader question? Aspirationals and devotional, faith-based organisations such as your own are talking about compromises. It has been said a number of times in the debate—I have said it a certain number of times—that if we want to carry on the work of Wilberforce, we must have the strongest international element to the Bill. Do you think that it chimes with the aspirations of faith-based organisations to talk compromises, when maybe you should in fact be setting heights for us to reach?

Dr Reed: We want the Bill to be as ambitious as possible, but we are also conscious of the parliamentary timetable and the dangers of the Bill collapsing under the weight of numerous amendments. That is why, from our perspective, we want to prioritise one or two areas. The first area in which we would love to see further ambition enshrined in the Bill is business supply chains, because we think that will have a catalytic effect not only here in the UK but across business supply chains around the world. We think it will also lead other countries to look at their own company Acts to see what further amendments need to be made.

We have been talking to other faith communities about this. We have also been talking to a firm of lawyers about how, if the Companies Act were amended, we might be able to identify 20 to 30 other countries where similar changes to companies Acts might also be possible. I think this is one area where Churches and faith communities, not only here in the UK but around the world, would be willing to mobilise in a way that has not been seen for a number of years. Again, it is a matter of prioritisation. This is one glaring omission in the Bill, and it has to be corrected.

Q 43 Mr Hanson:  When considering the Bill, the Joint Committee made some suggestions about revisiting the issue of the overseas domestic worker visa, which was changed by the Government two years ago. Do you have any view on the change or whether the Bill should revisit some of those issues?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: I think the Bill should revisit the issue of domestic workers. A large number of people from different parts of the world, particularly developing countries, apply to work in homes, and when they arrive in the UK, some of them are treated like slaves. It is important that that issue is addressed in the Bill. We know what domestic workers contribute to the economy. A country such as the Philippines gives pre-departure orientation to workers, so they are very clear what to expect. If situations like that change, it is only right that they are protected. They are brought under the guise of working in a home, and then they are enslaved, which clearly amounts to human trafficking, which is an area that needs to be addressed.

Dr Reed: I was intrigued to read that on Second Reading in the Commons, one or two MPs made reference to the work of an NGO that indicated that since the visas were changed, 60% of those on the new domestic worker visa were paid no salary at all, compared with, say, 14% on the original visa. As you know, the sample for that survey was quite small, but it seemed to indicate that there is a case that needs to be looked at again.

Q 44 Mr Hanson:  Some of us have received representations—maybe all of us have; I do not know, but I certainly have—about the potential for the Bill to consider the extension of the gangmaster legislation to other areas, particularly hospitality, tourism, catering or construction. Do you have any views on that potential extension?

Cecilia Taylor-Camara: The labour market is full of areas where we have seen immense abuse and trafficking in this country. It is such a hidden crime that we may not ever know the realistic figures on the number of people brought into this country who are then enslaved in the labour market. Clearly, that area needs to be looked at, and extended in particular to the hospitality industry. Sometimes you go to the bathroom in a restaurant and see very young girls working at about 2 in the morning. I am wondering, “What are you doing at work at this age?” I have wondered sometimes how you bring them to justice—what questions do you ask? That is clearly an area in which the law must provide protection for those people, especially those who are under age.

The Chair:  There are no further questions from Members, so I thank the witnesses for their evidence. We will move on to the next panel.

 

(via Parliament.uk)

 

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