LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British Prime Minister David Cameron could have been an anti-slavery hero had he ensured that a draft law to combat slavery contained provisions to prevent the "evil practice" in corporate supply chains, a senior politician said.
Frank Field, who chaired a parliamentary committee set up to scrutinize the Modern Slavery Bill, said Cameron had balked at the idea of making listed companies report how they were checking their chain of suppliers for signs that any of them were using slave labor.
"David Cameron was within touching distance of greatness. But almost at the last moment, he stumbled," Field, a member of the opposition Labour Party, wrote in an op-ed for the right-leaning magazine Spectator. “He thought this would introduce an unnecessary regulatory burden on businesses."
Field said that while Cameron had been wary of alienating the business community, many big businesses would welcome such a requirement.
"By not forcing companies to conduct due diligence, to declare their supply chains slave-free, Cameron has denied them the best line of defense: 'I checked my suppliers, as the law demands,'" Field said. "This leaves them open to accusations of illegal practice and — just watch — lawsuits."
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
The government expects parliament to pass the Modern Slavery Bill, which consolidates and simplifies slavery and trafficking offences in one wide-ranging law, before the next general election in 2015.
Almost 30 million people are enslaved worldwide, trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labor, victims of debt bondage or born into servitude, according to rights group Walk Free Foundation. The International Labour Organization estimates there are almost 21 million victims of forced labor.
Although the number of victims of slavery in Britain is hard to pin down, there has been an increase in human trafficking cases in recent years.
In 2012, the number of potential victims reported to the National Referral Mechanism - established to identify trafficking victims - rose by 25 percent from 2011 to nearly 1,200.
Although campaigners have welcomed the Modern Slavery bill, many say it does not go far enough. Last month a coalition of anti-trafficking charities published an alternative bill highlighting what they see as deficiencies in the legislation.
Their version included provisions for legal guardians to protect child victims of trafficking and a clause to prevent the criminalization of child and adult victims of trafficking forced to commit crimes.
(Editing by Tim Pearce; email@example.com; Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covers underreported humanitarian, human rights, corruption and climate change issues. Visit www.trust.org)