Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists:
Tony Dunkerley – Director of Illustro Consultancy Ltd
Lisa Hsin – AHRC Modern Slavery Research Fellow at University of Oxford
Andrew Wallis OBE – CEO at Unseen

Key points

Tony Dunkerley notes that there is no clear or universally agreed definition of modern slavery, in simple terms it is where someone asserts right of ownership of people, where they are treated like objects. They can be recruited in different ways, usually once they have been separated from their home base, and for different reasons such as poverty, unemployment, corruption, instability, lack of education, inequality. Typically exploited people are made promises that are not fulfilled. In discussing responses, he notes that there are those who have a mandated responsibility, for example, the police, customs and excise, immigration, some businesses have mandated requirements in that big companies must produce a statement to say how they are responding to modern slavery and there is now a focus on entire supply chains. And those with ethical obligations such as parents. On a more practical note you will hear Anthony discussing ways in which host countries can stop trafficking by deploying law enforcement, and working in partnerships with countries to provide specialists at receiving reports. Visa ties are an issue, it means workers can be more easily exploited. Covid-19 has exposed some bad companies and bad practices for example when streets are deserted trafficked people are easier to identify but it depends on the due diligence of police and others, who all too often lack the training and skills to do a good job.

Lisa Hsin notes modern slavery is a multi-faceted problem needing an appropriate multi-pronged solution with the separate elements each being treated with focused attention. Building on Anthony’s point about the lack of training Lisa discusses how victims are prevented in law from being punished for offences committed under duress but this is often overlooked; sometimes trafficked people face the double jeopardy of being controlled by criminals and forced to commit offences and being punished by courts. As she notes, exploitation is not always easy to identify, training is needed, and it is often lacking, and this is an area where there is a need for a real focus and emphasis. But it is not just the criminal justice system that falls short, governments have been negligent in their approach and so in a different way have businesses. Although the definition of modern slavery is broad – an umbrella term incorporating many types from possession of an individual to often ‘milder’ types such as taking a passport or requiring people to wear nappies –  she sees it as an advantage that it is broad, as it can be interpreted in different ways and is sceptical of the benefits of a tight definition which everyone signs up to.

Andrew Wallis sees modern slavery as where people are treated as a commodity and traded, humans being used to generate large profits. Indeed, it is striking that this crime is very profitable indeed with the additional advantage for offenders that is carries a low chance of apprehension and prosecution. Part of the problem is that consumers demand cheap goods – what he refers to as an ‘insatiable demand’ – and this drives exploitation and unfortunately there is an endless supply of vulnerable people. You will hear Andrew distinguish smuggling, a crime against the state, from trafficking, a crime against the person. Andrew discusses the role of the voluntary sector in responding, in lobbying and in the case of NGOs acting as specialist points of expertise (as well as being society’s conscience). And businesses, where being actively engaged with workers, being transparent in practices, leading from the top with good principles and practices are key.  

We learn from the panellists that no agency has all the answers, no country is perfect, but there are good examples and reference points, we just need more of them and to highlight those that do exist. Training is key, we can all help identify those who are vulnerable and may be at risk of being controlled. Those on the frontline have a key role here, and that includes the many working in security. It is not clear though that the security sector has seen this as important, and that needs to change, the consequences for some who are vulnerable are just too severe.

Martin Gill
11th March 2021