Bishop of Derby takes part in debate on Modern Slavery Bill

I wonder whether there is some way of privileging people once they have been recognised as having been exploited or enslaved, to give them a different way of accessing benefits and support because they have been enslaved and treated as commodities. That would make an enormous difference.

On 17th November 2014, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, took part in the Second Reading debate of the Government’s Modern Slavery Bill. The Bishop, who was a member of  the Joint Select Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, welcomed the progress that had been made in bringing the Bill to its current form. He noted that concerns about the commodification of humans through slavery required further thinking on supply chain accounting and other aspects of the legislation, and also raised questions about how best the vicitms of trafficking and slavery could be supported by the state.

DerbyThe Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I was privileged to be on the Joint Select Committee and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bates, on his very positive introduction. I also express my appreciation to the Government for listening and being willing to negotiate and explore options as this legislation unfolds.

I remind your Lordships that this is not just a huge and wicked crime. It is, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, says, increasing as we talk, massively. It treats human beings as commodities to be traded. The challenge of this legislation is to stop this practice. I am delighted that the Government are committed to producing a slavery strategy to complement the Bill and I hope that many of our concerns can be refined through that strategy. I would like to raise three of four things that might benefit from further scrutiny and wider debate in our process.

The issue of supply chains, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has spoken, sparked a debate a few weeks ago. It is good that the Government have listened and have a genuine commitment to trying to tackle supply chains, which are key to this appalling crime. At the moment, the connection is not clear enough between the kind of information required, by asking companies to be more transparent about supply chains, and the accountability of directors for listening to that information and doing something about it. Many companies already put things about supply chains on their websites, but, as I have said, the crime is increasing. We must be more focused, sharper and tougher.

It may be important to think about the Companies Act being amended, although I know that this is not popular and is continually sidelined. This is not least because the Government have admitted that they recognise that human rights reporting includes supply chain integrity. However, an amendment to connect our aspirations in this Bill with an amendment to the Companies Act would require shareholders and directors to be accountable for what the company was doing with supply chains, and it would be a model that other countries that have companies Acts but not legislation about slavery could easily follow and get up to speed on, and therefore it would be a world leader. It would create a level playing field for all companies, so I flag up the Companies Act as a way of strengthening what we are trying to do.

Also with regard to supply chains, I want to mention the issue of scale. The Government are committed to finding a level at which companies will be required to do some kind of reporting, but the way our economy is developing, with the devolution of much activity into very small-scale, local subcontracting enterprises, that is where much slavery happens, and it is well out of the purview of major operators, which have a vast scale of operation. My right reverend friend the Bishop of Norwich, who is in his place, has been talking to me about evidence from Norfolk that points to a strong connection between something as basic as a car wash and a traded group of people who are doing that labour. It is very difficult to catch that kind of gangmaster activity, where people gather a group of people, force them to do the job, pay them peanuts, often confiscate their passports and entrap them where they do not know the language and do not have connections.

That is why I welcome the suggestion that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority has it remit extended, because part of the problem is we have a very low level of inspection. If the GLA had a wider remit and a stronger base to do inspections, that could be helpful. Another case I referred to briefly in our debate a couple of weeks ago was that in Derbyshire the local police, with the GLA, are targeting companies that might be susceptible to trafficking in their systems and going out to do preventive work, to help them recognise the signs, take appropriate measures and improve their performance. If the GLA had more resources and a wider remit, it could do proactive preventive work as well as inspections and helping with challenging the crime more directly.

I also flag up an amendment in the Commons, which was unsuccessful, introduced by a member of the Select Committee, Fiona Mactaggart, about demand in terms of the sex trade. Although I do not think it would be suitable to have legislation in this Bill about prostitution and criminalising payment for sex, many countries, especially the Nordic countries, have done a lot of work to show that sexual exploitation flourishes through prostitution and that where there has been legislation to criminalise the purchase of sex—which is the commodification of other human beings—that has had a dramatic effect on the level of sexual exploitation and slavery.

I will briefly say something about the national referral mechanism. I congratulate Jeremy Oppenheim on his report and will just pick out a phrase that I think is very helpful for what we are trying to do. He says that we should not talk about first responders—who sound like some kind of St John Ambulance coming in from the touchline—but should call the people on the front line “slavery safeguarding leads”. Slavery is a safeguarding issue. It is about vulnerable adults being taken advantage of, and if we can use the word “safeguarding”, that makes sense to people in our culture and our society. I also endorse the very important point he makes, which we may want to pursue further, when he says that the 45 days, which we all know is inadequate for many purposes, is not a period for rehabilitation. We may need to separate out what space we need to make decisions about legal process and what space we need to try to support people, rehabilitate them and put them back on their feet.

Finally, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, mentioned the need to have a victim-centred Bill. We have to find a way of privileging victims because they are so abused and so sinned against. At the moment victims fall at many fences. Legal aid changes are beginning to put them in a disadvantaged place in trying to secure any legal support. With benefits systems, residency, housing, jobseeker’s allowance and all those kinds of things, the norms that we have for those bits of welfare activity are making it very hard for people who have been enslaved and have no documents or a settled address to access the welfare system. I wonder whether there is some way of privileging people once they have been recognised as having been exploited or enslaved, to give them a different way of accessing benefits and support because they have been enslaved and treated as commodities. That would make an enormous difference.

Finally, I welcome the nomination of Kevin Hyland as the first Anti-slavery Commissioner. I, too, have had the privilege of working with him and he is one of the great experts in our country. He has been at the forefront of putting victims at the front of this legislation and the work of the Metropolitan Police. He could be an exciting ally in this kind of work. I welcome the Bill and look forward to debating some of the big issues, but I plead that we think seriously about recognising how commodified people are in slavery and about whether they need a special prioritisation through the welfare system.

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Lord Bates (Government Response): …I recognise the passion that noble Lords have brought to the debate. Many who took part spoke from personal experience, whether it was the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, speaking with international experience of freeing people from slavery in Sudan, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, talking about his experiences in his diocese, or the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and my noble friend Lord McColl, with their experiences in this area…

…That is the role of the new commissioner. The new commissioner has very much to engage with these forces, with local authorities, to ensure that those referrals happen and that prosecutions are brought. I very much subscribe to the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby when he talked about people seeing themselves as “slavery safeguarding leads”—that is a very good way of describing it. However, out of the referrals that have happened so far, 42% came through the Home Office, 25% came through the police, 21% came through NGOs—reference has been made to some of those excellent NGOs—but only 9% came through local authorities, 2% through the National Crime Agency and 1% through the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. There is progress, but attention needs to be drawn to this issue. The role of the commissioner is very much to ensure that those numbers increase and that the number of prosecutions increases. He has to report to Parliament each year and parliamentarians will have an opportunity to give their views on his progress…
(via Parliament.uk)