July 9, 2019 / 5:24 PM / a month ago

UK aims to uncover more traffickers with new modern slavery research center

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain is aiming to uncover the true scale of modern slavery and expose more trafficking networks through the creation of a 10 million pound ($12.5 million) research center involving academics, charities and firms, the government said on Tuesday.

The initiative will drive research and boost collaboration in Britain and abroad between various sectors, focusing on prevention, law enforcement, supply chains and victims’ needs.

“There is much we can be proud of in our progress so far, but we need to accelerate our efforts, better share knowledge and build on our expertise,” Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement as the center was announced.

Ella Cockbain, a lecturer in security and crime science at University College London, said the 10 million pound investment was an opportunity to improve the “the notoriously scant evidence-base on (human) trafficking and exploitation”.

“It is also vital to investigate and better mitigate against the harms anti-slavery interventions can have on already marginalized populations, such as low-wage migrant workers and/or sex workers,” Cockbain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The charity Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) welcomed the announcement, but said it was concerned that the government was failing to examine its own policies that fuel human trafficking.

“New and salient research is always welcome, but introducing this new center whilst ignoring the role of immigration policy in facilitating modern slavery is to fail to see the wood for the trees,” said Emily Kenway, senior policy advisor at FLEX.

The government also published its response to an independent review of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act that it ordered last year.

Britain has described itself as a world leader in the anti-slavery drive. But it asked three politicians to review its law amid criticism it was not being used fully to jail traffickers, drive companies to root out forced labor, or support victims.

The government said it had accepted the majority of the more than 80 recommendations made in the review - which focused mainly on four areas of the legislation from tackling slavery in supply chains to the role of the independent anti-slavery chief.

“There are several recommendations that the government has committed to consult on or consider in more detail, in order to understand the impact on affected groups and to inform practical implementation,” the government said in its response on Tuesday.

Britain is home to an estimated 136,000 slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation - a figure 10 times higher than a 2013 government estimate and one whose accuracy has been questioned by academics and activists.

($1 = 0.8019 pounds)

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 news.trust.org

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