In April 2017, we convened a multi-agency conference on Eliminating Slavery: Enhancing the Police Response, involving almost 60 representatives from police, non-governmental, academic, private sector and government backgrounds.

Changes in the political landscape had brought modern slavery to the forefront of legislation, policy-making and policing. Whilst modern slavery had previously been viewed chiefly in terms of sexual exploitation, it was now recognised as covering a range of exploitative offences, including labour exploitation and forced marriage.

A timely response

Our conference responded by examining the implications for policing, and priorities for practical responses. It highlighted progress that had already been made in the previous decade, for example in strengthening legislation and improving awareness of modern slavery amongst front-line service providers, but it also acknowledged that there is still much to be done.

Participants analysed the unique challenges that modern slavery presents for policing and devised cross-sector recommendations for law enforcement, first responders, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), prosecutors, private-sector organisations, policymakers and partnerships.Afterwards, Dr Robert Arnott, in his role as Director of Strategy and Transformation at the Home Office, said:

'Cumberland Lodge distinguished itself, yet again, in assembling insightful speakers in a supportive environment that challenged my thinking. My work on Home Office strategy will have been influenced materially by this conference.'

Key findings and recommendations

In June 2017, we published a report that presented key findings and recommendations that emerged from these conference discussions, and six months on in October 2017, progress was reviewed in a seminar we convened at the House of Commons, involving 50 stakeholders who are involved in tackling modern slavery in the UK. This seminar was chaired by Chief Constable Sara Thornton, then Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).

Delegates at the seminar reported grounds for optimism in the 157% rise in policing operations on slavery since April 2017, and the general sense of improvements in understanding of the scope of modern slavery and its deep links to organised crime. They reported a surge in proactive policing efforts, including 110 modern slavery arrests made in the two months following the Cumberland Lodge conference, across the UK. They also discussed areas requiring further improvement.

Influencing legislation and practice

Reflecting on progress since April 2017, two-and-a-half years on, in her new role as the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton commented:

‘Reading the Cumberland Lodge Report again, I realise just how much has moved on since April 2017.  I believe progress is being made in relation to the policing-focused recommendations it highlighted and, as a result, many more victims have been identified, crimes recorded, and fresh investigations undertaken.

‘The report made suggestions for strengthening the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, and action was taken in regards to the point on domestic worker visas, later in 2017. Previously, these visas had bound workers to their employers in a way that made them more vulnerable to potential exploitation.

‘One of the key recommendations was about improving public awareness, in order to support victim identification in the community, and I am pleased to see that levels of sensitivity are gradually increasing.

‘With hindsight, I believe we can be reassured that we were on the right lines in 2017, and I look forward to seeing further progress in the years to come.’

Influencing multi-agency initiatives

Christian Guy, Chief Executive of Justice and Care, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps to rescue victims of slavery and human trafficking and empower them to rebuild their lives, was rapporteur for our April 2017 conference. He is a former Special Adviser from the Prime Minister’s Number 10 Policy Unit.

Writing in June 2019, Christian said:

‘Much good has come from that weekend, including new programmes in the UK that involve the police and my NGO partnering in new ways to fight modern slavery on the front-line. These came directly from ideas and connections formed at the Cumberland Lodge conference.

‘One of the projects underway, as a result, is a landmark multi-agency 'live case' scenario - run over three separate, 24-hour periods, involving top leaders and experts in the field of modern slavery - to help define best practice responses across the police, agencies, the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] and other organisations.

‘This is a terrific example of how Cumberland Lodge can spark practical solutions to complex problems.’