Modern-day Slavery

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 7:18 pm on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 7:18 pm, 9th October 2018

My hon. Friend knows the Government’s commitment to this issue. The new advocates will focus on UK victims because, as we have tested the ground with these schemes, we have discovered that the needs of children trafficked into the UK—from Vietnam, for example—are different from those of children trafficked within the UK and who are already UK citizens. The pilots in those three areas are aimed at seeing whether we can improve the system for children who are not from the United Kingdom while also helping children who are. That is particularly relevant with the development of county lines and children being used within those gangs, which has been referred to today.

Finally on the NRM, the new victim care contract will come into effect in April 2020. It will include additional support, such as places of safety in advance of entering the NRM for those removed directly from situations of exploitation by law enforcement, as well as drop-in centres for victims for up to six months after they have left the NRM, because we understand that people need time to make the important decisions on how they want to be treated.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central rightly raised transparency in supply chains, on which we have world-leading legislation. I recently chaired a meeting of the business against slavery forum, which draws together chief executives of some of the world’s largest employers and organisations. We discussed what they are doing, what more can be done across business and how the Government can help with that. The forum includes organisations such as the Co-op, HSBC, Sky, Unilever, Vodafone, WPP, Barclays, BT, Associated British Foods and others, and there is real enthusiasm and energy in that group to help the UK tackle modern slavery.

However, too many businesses still fail to meet their basic legal obligation to publish transparency statements, or have shown that they are not taking serious action to tackle modern slavery. The Home Office will therefore over the next month write directly to the chief executives of 18,000 businesses considered to be in scope of the obligation. Those that persist in flouting their obligations can expect to face tougher consequences. The Government are also committed to tackling modern slavery in our own procurement. We are developing tools and guidance for contracting authorities in the public sector to help buyers mitigate against risks of modern slavery and to take action where modern slavery is identified.

Law enforcement is a vital part of this picture. We want to successfully investigate and prosecute those who ensnare human beings in their gangs or slavery networks. We have invested £8.5 million to transform the police response through the modern slavery police transformation unit. That unit has established the intelligence base to target perpetrators and has developed bespoke training for frontline and senior detectives.

We are seeing encouraging results, with more than 950 live investigations currently under way, which, to put it into context, is up from 188 in 2016. There have been some very good convictions recently, as has been referred to, including last week the first conviction under modern slavery legislation of a county lines exploitation gang involving children. We want the message to be loud and clear: if a criminal gang leader exploits children in that way, they are guilty of grooming and should suffer the social stigma that that conveys.