BRUSSELS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The starting gun has fired and “the race is on” to save the estimated 40 million people trapped in slavery worldwide, Britain’s outgoing anti-slavery chief said at a conference on modern-day slavery on Wednesday.
The world needs legislation and protocols to tackle modern slavery, but most of all it needs action to support victims and help them rebuild their lives, said Britain’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland.
“Bringing in legislation is a good step ... but while we sit, debate and get stuck in academic boxes, people continue to suffer,” Hyland told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s one-day Trust Conference at the European Parliament in Brussels.
“The race is on to save slavery victims’ lives, the gun has gone but we’re still in the blocks ... every day that race continues, the winning line for those victims gets further away.”
Britain has been regarded as an international leader in the global fight against human trafficking since passing the Modern Slavery Act in March 2015 and now all countries have committed to a United Nations goal to try to end slavery by 2030.
The UK law introduced life sentences for traffickers, measures to protect people at risk of being enslaved, and made large companies scrutinize supply chains for forced labor.
“Slavery isn’t just happening far away, it’s happening on our shores,” said Hyland, who is stepping down from his role this summer after voicing concerns about government interference hindering work.
Most people referred to the British government’s scheme for identifying and supporting victims of slavery and trafficking, the National Referral Mechanism, are British nationals, he said.
Not enough businesses in Britain are publishing statements detailing how they are tackling modern slavery, he added.
Following Britain’s landmark anti-slavery legislation, India in February approved a tough new law which can jail traffickers for life, while Australia is mulling an anti-slavery law that is expected to be tabled in coming months.
At least 13,000 people across Britain are estimated by the government to be trapped in forced labor, sex exploitation and domestic servitude - but police say the true figure could be in the tens of thousands with anti-slavery investigations rising. [L8N1SI242]
Reporting by Zoe Tabary @zoetabary, additional reporting from Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org