Modern Slavery Act 2015

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 26th October 2017.

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Photo of Darren Jones Darren Jones Labour, Bristol North West 2:05 pm, 26th October 2017

I congratulate my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker on bringing this important debate to the House. It goes without saying that human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labour, organ harvesting and servitude—to name but a few forms of modern slavery—are criminally deplorable, and for many people they go unseen. It is for this House and for others to make it clear that slavery continues to exist at every level of our society, including in my constituency. As my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy said, in July this year the Avon and Somerset constabulary raided a nail bar in my constituency, arresting four people on suspicion of human trafficking and slavery offences. In greater Bristol, further such raids have taken place in recent months.

A constituent came to see me at one of my first constituency surgeries as a new MP. She was tearful, she had little English, and she was unable to communicate the sheer disempowerment and lack of dignity that she had suffered through sexual exploitation in another part of the country. However, thanks to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the modern slavery helpline and other organisations, she was being supported, even though the visa process at the Home Office was going very slowly. I know that the Minister is aware of that case.

Car washes and nail bars are a common location for these activities, and vigilance and local knowledge are required. I share other Members’ concern that the papers have reported a so-called backlash against the Avon and Somerset constabulary for raising this issue on social media in a way that communicates to people in their daily lives and asks them to keep an eye out for these activities. Along with my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), I too have proudly painted my nails today in support of the Avon and Somerset police’s “Let’s Nail It” campaign. Perhaps I am the first male MP to have painted nails in the Chamber. I should add the cautionary note that this is not an endorsement for Eddie Izzard’s candidacy for Labour’s national executive committee.

We know that much more needs to be done, but in the face of continued severe cuts to our policing, the job is becoming more difficult. I often stand here and say that Bristol is leading the way, and I am proud to say that that is also the case on this issue. In 2007-08, Andrew Wallis and friends in Bristol started conversations that led to the establishment of safe houses in 2011, a resettlement service in 2013, the Anti-Slavery Partnership in Bristol, and the headquarters of the national charity, Unseen, which now provides the national modern slavery hotline.

In true Bristol fashion, we are also innovating in the way we do things. As Maggie Throup has mentioned, the “Transparency in Supply Chains” report—the TISC report—is the world’s largest open data register, helping to track and monitor compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It was built by Jaya Chakrabarti and friends in Bristol, and it provides a compliance solution that can prevent modern slavery. There is little point in legislating without enforcing. We have already heard about the difficulties for the police in enforcing the legislation in local communities due to funding cuts, and the TISC report has a growing list of more than 2,264 companies that continue not to comply with their reporting obligations under the Act. I do not know whether the Minister has seen the TISC Report, but if not, I would be happy to arrange for a copy to be sent to her. I hope that, in her summing up, she will set out what she will do to ensure that companies get in line, comply with the legislation and take this matter seriously.

Finally, I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the issue of construction projects. Where projects are entirely privately funded, the checks and balances built into public procurement process are often bypassed, and with the use of sub-contractors who sub-contract to sub-contractors, or the use of umbrella companies who sign the deal but do not directly employ workers themselves, the situation becomes much more complex. It is often at the depths of the sub-contractor chain that exploitation can take place. I raise this matter because I have significant construction projects in or near my constituency, including energy plants, Hinckley Point C and its supply chain, tens of thousands of new homes, expanding retail projects and major infrastructure upgrades in Bristol. I understand from trade union officials, who play a vital role in checking whether exploitation is happening on the shop floor and on the ground, that there are concerns about unethical working practices in my constituency that, in their view, approach modern slavery. I am working with them on that.

Learning lessons from the Welsh Government, who have addressed unethical working practices and modern slavery together to create ethical workplaces for constituents, I will begin work on a new project next year that will seek to eradicate unethical working practices and modern slavery from my constituency. To the individuals and companies who exploit or enslave my constituents and to those that exploit and enslave others within my constituency, let me be clear: you are on notice; you are not welcome; and we and our partners will ensure that you are prosecuted. But in order to do that work properly, I must work with businesses, trade unions and community groups and with important innovations such as the TISC report. We need proper Government enforcement, proper funding for policing and proper support from the Home Office for those who have been enslaved. I make a final plea to the Minister to set out how the Government, in the face of all the challenges, will ensure that the Modern Slavery Act—a good piece of legislation—is enforced properly and how we can work with partners to ensure that that is the case.