Leading article

It's time for Britain to abolish slavery – again

Theresa May's Modern Slavery Bill was the one bright spot in the Queen's Speech. But as events in Cardiff have shown, it isn't enough

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

Who would have expected to find slavery on the outskirts of Cardiff? Not the locals, who were shocked when police carried out a raid while investigating the case of two men understood to have been held in captivity for 26 years. ‘Human trafficking is becoming more prevalent across the United Kingdom,’ said Gwent Police. That’s one way of putting it. Another is to say it has been prevalent for years, but the authorities are only now beginning to take notice.

The last government was more interested in apologising for the old form of slavery than recognising the new one. Tony Blair’s 2006 apology for the slave trade was all the more bizarre because Britain ended, rather than started, the business. Slavery is a worldwide phenomenon, controversial nowhere until the 18th century. Then a bunch of Christians in Clapham kicked up a fuss (with a similar movement in America) and William Wilberforce took up the cause. Britain outlawed the slave trade and the Royal Navy stamped it out.

But slavery has not been defeated. Men and women, girls and boys are still trapped, traded and forced into involuntary service as sex workers, labourers and sometimes soldiers. And it has taken a Conservative minister, Theresa May, to put slavery back on the agenda. Her Modern Slavery Bill, the sole redeeming feature of the recent Queen’s Speech, will again put Britain in the forefront of the fight against slavery by calling this evil by its name, identifying it properly, and equipping police and judges with the powers they need to fight it.


The problem until now has been that  slaves are not always recognised as such,  even when they arrive in a police station asking for help. A report by the Centre for Social Justice, whose work on the subject helped form the Home Secretary’s agenda, took evidence from police. One deputy chief constable spoke about a girl who escaped from a brothel and turned up at a police station with no passport. ‘Under these confusing circumstances we chose to arrest her for being an illegal immigrant,’ he admitted. Under the old ‘performance indicators’, which have come to dictate police priorities, there was more incentive to investigate the theft of a Mars bar than a case of human trafficking.

Even when the police do act, the laws make convictions very hard (which means that the guilty are far less likely to be prosecuted). Take Operation Ruby, when 200 officers were involved in a swoop on a leek farm in Northamptonshire. They made 13 arrests and spent three years building a case — yet there were just two convictions. The prosecution could only use a jumbled assortment of sexual offences acts, trafficking law and immigration law. The gaps in the law are so wide that modern-day slave drivers have been effectively free to operate. When legal immigration runs at 1,400 people a day, it’s fairly easy to sneak in a few slaves.

The Home Secretary’s proposals are robust and far-reaching. The Modern Slavery Bill would issue instructions that human traffickers are to be considered as being as dangerous as arms dealers. All police will be given clear guidance on how to recognise someone who has been trafficked, and instructed not to prosecute those who are here illegally. They are often desperate young people who pay for passage into Britain and the promise of work, only to find that their passports are confiscated and their ‘work’ consists of forced labour. In theory, it is to repay the costs of passage. In practice, it is indentured slavery. A 28-year-old trafficking victim recently told Northampton Crown Court that he was forced to work in a nail bar to pay off the £23,000 cost of his transport to Britain.

So far Ms May has led the way. Even calling modern slavery by its name is a huge step forward: Wilberforce would have made no progress had he spent his time mumbling about ‘human trafficking’. Such euphemisms can confuse the issue, since Britons, too, can be taken as slaves. Three years ago, four men were found guilty of keeping vulnerable British men, who were homeless or drug addicts, in servitude. They were forced to work for nothing, up to 19 hours a day, were underfed and made to sleep in horse boxes.

There is a major flaw in what the Home Secretary currently proposes, however. A vital part of tackling modern slavery is confronting businesses that use slaves. Today there is considerable uproar if some horse meat is found in lasagne, but we tend not to worry about our prawns being supplied through the use of slavery in Thailand. The ask-no-questions approach in globalised food and clothing industries allows modern slavery to exist. In California, businesses with sales of over $100 million are required to question their suppliers, and seek proof that their wares were produced without slaves. The same could be done in Britain.

As things stand, there is no such requirement. David Cameron and George Osborne are understood to believe that such a request is anti-business: not so. It’s anti-slave, which is why Sir Richard Branson and others back the idea of a slavery audit. The Labour party looks likely to insert this amendment into Mrs May’s legislation. The issue should not be party political, but it would reflect badly on the Conservatives if they needed to be forced by Labour into making the legislation sufficiently robust. A small amendment to Mrs May’s bill would ensure that Britain could stamp out the new slavery as surely as we did the old kind.

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Show comments
  • Simon Fay

    Open borders, “service nomadism”, itinerant post-modernity etc etc

    • Aethelflaed

      Cultural enrichment – don’t you know !!

  • Hippograd

    But slavery has not been defeated.

    It had been on British soil, rather like electoral fraud and the torture of suspected witches. But thanks to mass immigration, the past lives again. And even more enrichingly, we now have vibrancies once unknown here, like rape-gangs and child-sacrifice. The dreaming spires and Old Father Thames have been brought into the twenty-first century:

    The seven men, including two sets of brothers, had been found guilty last month of a catalogue of offences including rape, trafficking and organising prostitution. Sentencing the men at the Old Bailey on Thursday, Judge Peter Rook said: “These were sexual crimes of the upmost gravity. The depravity was extreme, each victim was groomed, coerced and intimidated.”

    Judge Rook jailed brothers Akhtar Dogar, 32, and Anjum Dogar, 31, for a
    minimum of 17 years telling them they had been found guilty of “exceptionally grave crimes”. Mohammed Karrar, 38, of Kames Close, Oxford, will serve at least 20 years after being convicted of 18 offences including child rape and trafficking. Bassam Karrar, 34, of Hundred Acres Close, Oxford, will serve at least 15 years. Co-defendant Kamar Jamil, 27, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 12 years.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/10146369/Oxford-sex-grooming-gang-jailed-for-life.html

    “Adam” was the name given to a young Nigerian boy whose torso was discovered
    in the River Thames, London on 21 September 2001. He is believed to have been between the ages of four and seven. The murder is believed to be linked to a ritual killing. Despite the use of forensic science, the Metropolitan Police Service have not caught the killer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_%28murder_victim%29

    Diversity — it’s what makes Britain great!

  • will91

    And a one, two, three.
    Sing it together.
    “Celebrate diversity, Celebrate diversity, Celebrate diversity”
    Just like the electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets, just like first cousin marriage in Bradford, just like grooming instances in Rochdale, Derby and Oxford.
    These things are inevitable when you have too quick an influx of immigrants from the third world.

  • global city

    The Left would no doubt crush such an initiative, determined as they will be to keep the focus of hate on ‘the west’ and their ‘uniquely’ (for some bizarre and never explained reason) racist involvement in slave trading.

  • Gwangi

    Slavery has been part of every human civilisation from the beginning of human history. The script we are told – that nasty whites enslaved Africans and THAT is slavery – is utter nonsense. Most slavery was not part of that at all.
    It is only the European nations (and the quasi-European cultures of the US etc) who banned slavery. Though the USA did it 60 years after us. Many African and Asian countries never have though.
    I think Saudi Arabia made slavery illegal in the 1960s but as it says slavery in tickety boo in the Koran, one suspects they still think it’s tickety al-booboo too. All the Thai and Bangla slaves there get treated like slaves anyway – then when your owner Arab tried to scroo you as a maid and you resist, he gets his mates to plant drugs on you and then you lose your head in chop chop square pretty damn quick inshallah!
    I don’t think any wealthy leader in African or Asia wanted to ban slavery which is why it continues, together with other barbarity and backwardsness. OK so many they call it indentured labour in Asia a lot, but it’s much the same thing. Though of course the yummy mummys of London have their servants, and you wouldn’t get a sheet of Bronco between their lives and those of slaves. The worst servant owners are the Africans, Arabs and Asians. They will work slaves – I mean, domestic servants – from 6am until midnight 7 days a week. In London.
    And then there’s all the African slaves sent over as part of family deals which our pc ethnophiliac authorities turn a blind eye to – because we have to respect our diverse cultures, don’t we? Really? Do we? Why?

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    If Blair had acted instead of indulging himself with sanctimonious prating his government could have brought about an Anti-Slavery Act, such as defined in Mrs May’s Bill, a long time ago.

  • Ganpati23

    “The Labour party looks likely to insert this amendment into Mrs May’s
    legislation. The issue should not be party political, but it would
    reflect badly on the Conservatives if they needed to be forced by Labour
    into making the legislation sufficiently robust.”

    Fair play. Nice to see some Tory decency for once.

  • Marcus

    I am sorry Fraser, this is a good article but you have lost me on the use of the word ‘Slavery’:

    A girl from Eatern Europe moving to the UK is…. legal.
    Keeping her in a house against her will is….Kidnapping/false imprisonment
    (illegal)
    Selling her body for sex is….prostitution (illegal)
    Forcing her to have sex is …..Rape (illegal)
    Forcibly injecting her with heroin is….attempted murder/GBH/? (Illegal)

    Now, if she turned up at a police station to report these crimes and the old
    bill checked her details and said:

    ‘Sorry luv, it says here you’re the property of a Mr. J. Dovovich and I am
    returning you forthwith’ then that is Slavery. It is state supported kidnapping
    and forced Labour.

    I just don’t buy in to the use of the word slavery in this context and the
    cause I believe is loosing a lot of support because of this semantic error.

  • Blindsideflanker

    We don’t need to fight slavery, again, all we need is well managed control of our borders. Of course that would go against the vested interests who want our country to be no more than a transit camp for their itinerant workforce, and as our establishment are fully in favour of their sod the country lets make a fast buck, we end up fire fighting the symptoms of a failing state, and not sorting out the problem.

  • global city

    From the headline, for moment I thought it was an article about the EU.

  • CristianoZapata
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