Frank Field MP, the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on the Modern Slavery Bill, has cautioned against a “failure of nerve” by the government to implement laws to help protect victims of human trafficking, at an Oxford roundtable organized by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society at Wolfson College.
Mr Field expressed concerns that the adoption of proposals to tackle slavery in supply chains and to secure greater protections for the victims may not be included in the revised version of the Modern Slavery Bill “because No. 10 is committed to lessening red tape” for business.
Mr Field paid tribute to the work of the Home Secretary Theresa May in pushing forward the Bill, saying that in its current form “Within the space of a year we’ve moved from almost no demand for a Slavery Bill to a draft Bill. That we have a Draft Bill owes everything to the commitment of the Home Secretary”.
Sounding a cautionary note, he warned that “it would be a failure of imagination and nerve on the part of the government” if the revised Bill, due to be published later this year, did not include the proposals made by the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee to provide statutory provisions in order to protect victims from prosecution for activities that were undertaken as a result of being enslaved at the time.
With campaigning already underway in the lead up to the General Election, he made a call for increased lobbying of MPs by anti-slavery campaigners and constituents to ensure that necessary amendments to the Bill are made as it passes through Parliament.
Mr Field went on to criticize the characterization of the recent kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram on the grounds that it had been described as an instance of human trafficking rather than one of slavery. He claimed that traffickers facing trial in the UK are able to avoid conviction by arguing that the victim is compliant in the process of being smuggled, which would not be possible if the offence was framed as one of slavery.
The comments were made at a roundtable discussion entitled The Business of Traffic in Humans, organized by the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society in association with the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Oxford. The event was convened by Marija Jovanovic from the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford and Ryszard Piotrowicz from the department of Criminology at Aberystwyth University, who also chaired the debate.
Participants included Petya Nestorova from the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA); Darryl Dixon of the Gangmasters Licencing Authority; Catherine Bearder, MEP for South East England; and the human rights barrister Parosha Chandran, member of the Legal Steering Committee to the Modern Slavery Bill Evidence Review Panel.
The discussion, which included representatives of business groups and anti-slavery civil society organizations, debated recent developments in UK and European policymaking on human trafficking, and assessed the relative responsibility of the state and business in tackling the problem.
The conference was held as part of the FLJS programme in Development and the Implications for Law, Justice and Society, which was launched in 2013 with a panel discussion on the Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals.
Podcasts of the participant presentations will be available from our Podcasts pages in the coming weeks, and a report and policy paper will be published later in the summer. To receive updates on outputs from the event and all our latest news, subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter.