An account of the London follow-up seminar, by Cumberland Lodge Scholar, Liisa Tuhkanen

Published Date: 
Monday, 30 October 2017
Liisa Tuhkanen

What comes to your mind when you hear the word slavery? For many, it evokes images of chains, plantations, the atrocities of the colonial era. Yet, slavery is also very much a contemporary problem, affecting an estimated 13000 people in Britain and over 40 million worldwide.

Instead of locks and chains, the victims of modern slavery are often trapped by threats and a lack of trust towards those who could help them, and more public awareness is urgently needed to help change the situation. This was one of the main issues raised at the seminar on enhancing the police response to modern slavery, held at the House of Commons on Monday 30 October. The event was chaired by Chief Constable Sara Thornton, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council. Thornton was joined in conversation by MP Sarah Newton, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability; Will Kerr, Director of Vulnerabilities at the National Crime Agency; Major Anne Read, Director of Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Salvation Army; and Rt Rev Alastair Redfern, Independent Chair of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Advisory Panel. 

Building upon previous discussions

 The seminar built on the important discussions started earlier in the year at the Cumberland Lodge Police Conference (the full conference report can be downloaded here). Since then, policing operations on slavery have increased by 157 percent (see the conference blog here). Recognition and understanding of the problem both among the police and the wider public are also on the rise. These are encouraging steps, but challenges remain. There are regional discrepancies in police responses, and despite the overall rise in operations, prosecution rates remain low. Moreover, it is important to find new ways of prosecuting the crime while minimising the pressure put on the victims, some of whom do not self-identify as such. In fact, victim recognition is another area in need of immediate improvement.

Visibility problem

Overall, modern slavery still has a clear visibility problem: it is often happening right under our noses without being recognised for what it is. Consequently, one of the most effective ways of fighting this crime is raising awareness about it, particularly among healthcare professionals - who may encounter victims and survivors of slavery in their practice - and the general public, who as consumers can play a significant role in recognising and reporting possible cases.

One of the seminar’s most interesting questions was raised as the event drew to a close: what is the connection between modern slavery and official immigration policies? While the UK is often presented as one of the world leaders in addressing modern slavery, the country has received criticism for its treatment of undocumented migrants, a group that encompasses many victims and survivors. It is well known that some of those affected by slavery are too scared to seek help for fear of getting deported. 

Furthermore, The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group has expressed concerns that leaving the European Union may jeopardise the UK’s fight against slavery, as much of the progress made so far has relied on EU legislation and cooperation (click here for the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group's July 2017 report, Brexit & the UK's fight against modern slavery). It is clear that, despite the recent advances in tackling modern slavery, there is still a lot of work left to do.

For more information on our London Seminars, please click here.