December 17, 2018 / 6:49 PM / 10 months ago

UK urged to scrap search for new anti-slavery chief over interference fears

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain should scrap its search for a new anti-slavery chief and address concerns about the independence of the next commissioner before readvertising for the role, lawmakers said on Monday.

Kevin Hyland was appointed as the inaugural independent commissioner in 2014 as part of Britain’s landmark Modern Slavery Act, but he resigned in May and left the post in August saying he had been frustrated by government interference.

In a government-ordered review of the law, three politicians said they were worried by reports that Hyland had not been free to criticize Britain’s anti-slavery efforts - and the job advert for his successor raised doubts about the role’s independence.

Britain’s push to be the world leader in tackling slavery have been “thwarted” by the delay in replacing Hyland - which has hindered policy advances and scrutiny of the government - two sources told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last week.

“The present recruitment process for a new Commissioner should be scrapped and a new job description drafted once the recommendations of this report have been considered in full by the Home Secretary,” the lawmakers said in their review.

The Home Office (interior ministry) said it remained committed to fighting slavery, and would consider the findings.

“However, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner provides crucial scrutiny of the government’s response to modern slavery and impartial advice on ways we can improve,” a spokesman said.

“That is why we will continue the recruitment of a new Commissioner, and our work to ensure their independence.”

The Home Office has advertised twice for the role - a three-year contract with a salary of up to 140,000 pounds ($178,000).

The three politicians behind the review - Frank Field, Maria Miller and Baroness Butler-Sloss - said that a requirement in the job advert for the tsar’s performance to be reviewed annually by the Home Office was of “particular concern”.

“(This) fundamentally contradicts our conclusion in this report that Home Office officials should play no part in the direction-setting or appraisal of the role,” the lawmakers said.

The review’s recommendation that the new commissioner should be accountable to the Cabinet Office rather than the Home Office - in order to underline the role’s independence - is key, said Emily Kenway of the charity Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX).

“A large part of doing this role well means holding the Home Office to account which creates conflict of interest,” the FLEX senior advisor posted on Twitter in response to the review.

Britain announced in July it would review its 2015 law amid criticism that it is not being used fully to jail traffickers, drive firms to stop forced labor, or help victims. The findings - published on Monday - are one part of a wide-ranging review.

Britain is home to at least 136,000 modern slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation - a figure 10 times higher than a government estimate from 2013.

Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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