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Government failing to get to grips with modern slavery

The Home Office has no way of knowing whether laws introduced to combat modern slavery are working, according to a new report.

Parliament passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, which requires all commercial organisations with an annual turnover of more than £36m operating in the UK to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement setting out their policies, due diligence and risks in relation to slavery and human trafficking.

The food chain is particularly at risk and the act was seen as a potential game-changer on supply chain transparency.

However, the public accounts committee said it has taken too long to learn what works in the system, to understand the complexities of the crime and to turn the strategy and the Modern Slavery Act into an effective and co-ordinated approach across government.

“Government cannot hope to target resources in an effective manner until it properly understands the scale and nature of the challenge, “ said Labour MP and PAC chair Meg Hillier. “This crime is complex and a piecemeal approach will not cut it.”

Forced labour is the most common element of modern slavery. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that almost 25m people globally are victims of forced labour, 18% of whom are children.

In October 2017, a report by the CORE Coalition found that major companies including food and hospitality businesses are not properly engaging with the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains.

PAC’s report suggests the government is struggling too. The MPs concluded that the Home Office does not yet have the data or systems to understand the crime, the demographics and circumstances of the victims and the perpetrators. Nor does it know how much money it spends tackling modern slavery or what success looks like, meaning it cannot establish whether its strategy is working or how it should prioritise its actions.

The committee also found wide variation in the actions taken by police forces. Only 6% of the crimes recorded in the year to March 2017 led to summonses or charges, they said. While prosecution rates have increased in the last year they are “still low”.

The Home Office doesn’t know what happens to victims after they have gone through the system and if they have been trafficked again. Potential victims are also waiting far too long for a decision on whether they will be treated as a victim of modern slavery, which causes further distress and anxiety to vulnerable people, the report noted.

The MPs called on the Home Office to set targets and actions, plus a means of tracking resources, and report back by December 2018.

There were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2013.