BRITAIN IS WORLD LEADER IN TACKLING EXPLOITATION OF VULNERABLE PEOPLE
I DO NOT need to make the case against slavery. No one can argue that it is anything other than abhorrent. And yet, this despicable abuse of human rights persists in the 21st century.
While the world looks the other way, the enormity of this neglected issue has grown. The latest global estimates suggest that there are 45 million victims of modern slavery across the world today, including, an estimated 10 to 13 thousand victims here in the UK.
That means, if all enslaved people were brought together in a single country, it would be the 34th most populated country in the world, ahead of Poland and Canada.
And by “enslaved people” I am referring to some of the most victimised, brutalised and exploited people in the world; the desperate women trapped in debt as they try to support their families; the vulnerable girls tricked and trafficked into sexual slavery; the children forced to work in mines and in factories for little or no pay, often far from home.
This is unacceptable and must be stopped.
I have been very clear: We want to end slavery for everyone, everywhere. I will not be satisfied until we have collectively consigned this vile crime to the history books.
I want to see those who profit from human misery behind bars. We must crack down on the criminal gangs who are robbing victims of their dignity, and their right to work freely, because in the end, our countries are being robbed too.
Modern slavery and child labour act as a huge barrier to sustainable, inclusive development. And in this age of protracted conflict and mass displacement, women and children are more vulnerable than ever.
If we want to achieve a world without slavery we must join forces, and the time is ripe for change. Governments, businesses, charities and religious leaders are increasingly aware of how corrosive this crime is and in my recent speech at the UN general assembly, I called on those convened to build on this momentum.
Britain is a global leader in stamping out modern slavery. This is a personal priority for our prime minister Theresa May and we are working across government to tackle this crime at home and abroad.
I’ve mentioned putting more slave masters behind bars. Our prime minister demonstrated the UK’s leadership by creating the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, the first legislation of its kind in Europe, leading to a rapid rise in convictions.
We are also turning our attention to victim support, ensuring they have access to counselling and the assistance they need, enabling them to reintegrate into society and prevent vulnerable people from being re-trafficked and falling back into a cycle of exploitation.
Unquestionably, we also need to tackle the root causes of slavery. We need to reduce people’s vulnerabilities and create better alternative livelihoods. This is where my department is doing life-changing work.
Our Work in Freedom programme is helping women facing slavery and exploitation in households and the garment industry in south Asia and the Middle East – reaching over 200,000 people so far. As part of these efforts, we are working with governments to improve laws and policies. We’re helping give women training and skills so they can provide for their families. And we’re working with UK brands and global recruitment agents to tackle exploitative recruitment practices.
When I visited India earlier this year, I met former bonded agricultural labourers who were forced into servicing a debt their families had taken. Instead of being paid wages they were given grain. Bonded labour is banned in India and with our support they were made aware of their rights and helped to access legal support and decent work. They are now free.
We cannot ignore that global challenges, whether conflict, humanitarian disasters or grinding poverty and lack of opportunity, have impacts that we feel here at home.
If we stand back from this fight, we are both abandoning our moral responsibilities and allowing global problems closer to our shores.
Modern slavery is a global scourge demanding a global response. The UK is leading the way.
Anti slavery day is on October 18