This talk is my own personal view and perspective as an independent. I organise Mensa at Trinity College Cambridge, the annual international conference. Some of the information I am presenting was obtained under Chatham House Rules, meaning I am able to report what has been said but am not able to attribute it.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015
The Bill consolidates the current offences relating to trafficking and slavery, with three key areas:
- Creates two new civil orders to prevent modern slavery
- Establishes an Anti-Slavery Commissioner and
- Makes provision for the protection of modern slavery victims.
Deficiencies in previous UK legislation regarding slavery were presented in a report In the Dock (based on research by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), a coalition of Non – governmental organization (NGOs) founded and led by Anti-Slavery since 2010).
Initially the new Modern Slavery Act (MSA) was focused on the importance of prosecution and containment. However there was no provision for victim protection — a key ingredient of any successful anti-slavery legislation being the rights of those affected by slavery.
But note that for the first time in the UK the government appointed an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (who started his work on 14th November 2014).
I now consider the size, nature, and scope of the ‘Slavery Problem’. I shall follow this with what I believe is the ultimate course of slavery, which is owning somebody in such a complete way that you feel perfectly capable of killing them and in many cases believing that there will be no repercussions!
Size, Nature and Scope of the ‘Slavery Problem’
I consider that slavery could be considered one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse i.e. the White Horse known as pestilence / control.
Today slavery is by no means always ideological, it is not part of a separate formal structure, rather it is integrated, embedded, even institutionalised — albeit often unwittingly. It is hidden in the very structures and socio-economic threads that hold our world together, being a cog in our economic machine, manifesting itself in a hidden underworld but interacting with the legitimate economy and intrinsically linked to global supply chains. At its heart slavery is a complex political, socio-economic and moral problem that is beyond easy measurement.
The figures, ranging from 21 – 35 million slaves, are conjecture and merely help illustrate the gravity of the issue, particularly its magnitude in relation to its historical existence. People are often taken aback that the UK, over 180 years after the Abolition of Slavery Act, have decided to appoint an anti-slavery commissioner. The figures show that the need is sadly greater than ever. And of course, these are not just figures — they represent real lives, human stories of suffering and loss of freedom. (35 million is the population of Canada).
Behind the figure is forged documents, traffickers, people as commodities and earnings. This occurs not just in a country without the rule of law, perhaps where there is corrupt governance. Slavery exists in the UK were the proportion of the perpetrators convicted is currently shamefully low.
In 2013 the Home Office statistical team’s analysis estimated that there are 10 – 13,000 victims enslaved in the UK. And according to intelligence collated by the National Crime Agency from law enforcement, safeguarding units and NGOs in 2013, 2,744 victims of modern slavery were identified.
A Crime of Low Risk and High Profit
Modern slavery needs to be a crime of high risk and low profit. At the moment in the UK, it is a very high profit, low risk crime with well over a 90% chance success rate, a miniscule chance of being caught. As it stands the business model is a pretty good one.
Total illicit profits from human trafficking are estimated by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to be around $32 billion. Add in forced labour crimes to that and that figure goes up to over $150 billion.
Slavery in some of its contemporary manifestations:
- human trafficking,
- the exploitation of migrant workers,
- child labour,
- the buying and selling of women and girls into the sex trade
- is considered a labour or human rights issue, which indeed it is.
Ultimately, though, modern slavery is at heart,
- a booming economy
- a thriving business in human life, and
- a very profitable one at that.
The trade in human life cannot be viewed in isolation from its root causes, nor the actors nor organizations with which it interacts and indeed, enabling means — such as modern technology, from the dark web being used to solicit business, GPS tracking used to monitor victims movement, to cheap flights facilitating transport and complex financial systems laundering illicit proceeds. Online technologies allow traffickers to exploit a greater number of victims across geographic boundaries with greater ease.
This is not to say that technology is not and cannot be used in the fight too. But rather as new strains and forms and models of technology evolve, legislation and law enforcement must constantly adapt and catch up.
Slavery is a slippery and confounding evil and persists despite adaptation on the legal front, with twelve international conventions banning the slave trade and over three hundred international treaties banning slavery.
However, no number of declarations will end the business of human trafficking. We need real investment from governments, businesses, and the involvement of people who are trained not only to spot human trafficking but also to follow the money.
Ultimate Course of Slavery
This means owning somebody in such a complete way that you feel perfectly capable of killing them and in many cases believing that there will be no repercussions. In this respect, many slaves both men and women, have been killed over a length of time when their usefulness is completed to their owner or merely by sheer neglect.
However the power to cause death, currently over women, has been extraordinary with statistics always being difficult but it is considered worldwide that some 140-160 million have been killed.
Putting aside merely for the moment the ethics of this killing, there is yet another problem and that is the world balance in the male-female population — particularly in what is generally considered less developed areas of the world.
Slavery trafficking is one of the factors in the world balance and in local areas it has very strong control and influence. This leads to degeneration in the calibre and backbone of those who deal or allow it in such countries as Thailand (one example of a Tier 3 slavery country*) where there is slavery in the fishery industry and there is a high prostitution slavery trafficking industry with many cases of low application of the law and in some cases corrupt police.
This kind of activity only goes to increase the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases and a new plague emerging from them. It is estimated that in Thailand alone that there is over half a million HIV-positive people.
Within the developed area of the world this problem has emerged in different ways. Within the UK, if we look at 1973, 1985, and 2008, we see the difficulty of a lack of male-female balance in senior financial areas. It has been said for some time that we need more women on top boards. In addition, currently female financial rewards are some 20% lower and on average female pensions are also lower.
The interdependence and global nature of human trafficking demands a collaborative cross-sector, global response and combatting it requires the expertise, resources and efforts of numerous individuals and entities.
Organized criminals utilize their networks to maximise profit. The first step is to ensure there are sustained communication streams and collaboration between statutory agencies, including law enforcement and non-government organisations.
Eradicating slavery is the responsibility of all, not just government bodies: businesses whose supply chains may be affected. When slavery is hidden in supply chains, it is too often seen as a corporate risk or perhaps an auditing problem and not for the crime that it is. It is a criminal practice, not just malpractice and needs to be treated as such by both businesses and law enforcement.