Since the passage of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the UK Government has announced various funding streams in recognition of the role that research can play in the fight against slavery.

A proportion of the £6 million Modern Slavery Innovation Fund, announced a year after the Act came into force, was apportioned to “crucial research into this global issue”[1]. Meanwhile, the 2019 launch of the Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) for Modern Slavery carries the purported aim of bringing together “academics, policymakers, businesses, civil society and the public on a scale not seen before in the UK to solve this global challenge[2].

In recognition of the ‘secretive’ nature of this crime, former Prime Minister Theresa May posited that the PEC would help identify the scale of slavery and survivors’ needs. Positioning her administration as one committed to evidence building, May told the press:

“As both Home Secretary and Prime Minister I have endeavoured to shine a light on this hidden crime.”

Former Prime Minister, Theresa May MP [3]

That same week, the Government came under fire after it transpired that data on the detention and deportation of trafficking victims was withheld from the former Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Frank Field MP.

After Exploitation’s launch report was widely-publicised, as it catalogued the detention of 507 potential trafficking victims and numerous deportations of throughout 2018 [4], [5], [6]. Not only were vulnerable victims of crime found to be at risk of immigration reprisals, the report also proved that Government has easy access to the modern slavery figures it previously denied holding[7].

The report was quickly picked up by MPs who had been refused similar data, first during a Westminster Hall debate on the subject tabled by Jess Philips MP and shortly after via an Urgent Question tabled by then-Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott[8].


“If it were not for After Exploitation, as my right hon Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) said, we would have no idea what those numbers were.”

Frank Field, former MP for Birkenhead. Urgent Question on ‘Immigration Detention: Victims of Modern Slavery”[9]

Despite wide-scale political recognition of the statistics, and a direct challenge to Theresa May’s track record on slavery in her last Prime Minister’s Questions[10], little has changed one year on. At the time of writing, survivor outcomes are still largely absent from official Government reporting, whilst the scale of state-induced risks to recovery – such as the deportation and detention of victims – remains obscured by FOI and PQ rejections.

Worryingly, rather than committing to increased transparency, the Government is rightly or wrongly perceived by legislators as unsupportive of publishing slavery outcomes. In October 2019, After Exploitation supported in drafting a ground-breaking provision in the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which would have mandated the Secretary of State to report on the number of survivors who access support, are deported or detained[11]. However, upon the Bill’s re-tabling, the clause was removed the Bill’s sponsor due to “advice” on securing Government support [12].

We are concerned that mandates to release data on slavery outcomes are being perceived as political threats rather than opportunities. After Exploitation holds that releasing data on the detention, deportation, and return of slavery survivors, alongside figures on the numbers accessing statutory support, would fulfil both a moral imperative and a valuable research function. Further, whilst FOI requests have served an important role thus far in holding the Government to account, it should not be up to civil society to make sense of piecemeal FOI data when robust figures, assured to the standard of Official Statistics, could be released by Government for the benefit of researchers.

Additionally, such a reliance on continued FOI investigations by civil society is not sustainable in the fight against labour abuse. After Exploitation notes the significant time that many FOI requests take to fulfil, including the raising of repeated time complaints and appeals processes where agencies refuse to provide data within the legal time limit of 20 working days under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. For example, we received an FOI in June 2020, demonstrating that 1 in 5 (19%) individuals recognised as potential trafficking victims are not referred to support through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the UK’s framework for identifying and support modern slavery survivors.

Whilst this data formed the basis of wide-scale reporting on the issue[13],[14]  the FOI itself was provided only after multiple time complaints by the requester, who secured a response more than nine months after the deadline[15]. It is not reasonable, nor is should it be necessary, for modern slavery charities to allocate this amount of staff resource to challenge Government over readily-available data.

Recommendations

Government

We call on Government to release the following data at regular intervals, in order to improve accountability and outcomes for trafficked people. The following information is already held on the Case Information Database (CID), and can be extracted within 24 hours of staff time:

  • Detention of potential and recognised trafficking victims
  • Deportation and voluntary return of potential and recognised trafficking victims
  • Immigration outcomes of survivors living with immigration insecurity

Capturing and releasing the following outcomes should also be explored, urgently:

  • Support provided or denied to potential and recognised trafficking victims, including safehouse referrals and subsistence
  • Legal aid support provided to victims and potential victims living with immigration insecurity

Law enforcement

Data sharing

Law enforcement must commit to a sustained ‘firewall’ preventing the sharing of victims’ data for the purposes of immigration enforcement. In cases where victims fear immigration reprisals, the absence of a binding data-sharing assurance may prevent survivors from accessing support or disclosing vital intelligence.

Charities

Freedom of Information

Where charities are refused information on modern slavery via Freedom of Information (FOI) request, which they reasonably believe to be held by a public authority, we encourage them to challenge these rejections. Information on doing so is available on the Information Commissioner’s website, and sharing findings via What Do They Know can allow others in the sector to access a more comprehensive picture of slavery data.

Local authorities

More efforts must be made across local government to consistently record both safeguarding concerns relating to modern slavery and the support outcomes following recognition.


[1] Gov.UK (2016). UK gives £6 million boost to global slavery battle. Last accessed 12 August 2020: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-gives-6-million-boost-to-global-slavery-battle

[2] Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre (2020). About Us. Last accessed 11 September 2020:
https://modernslaverypec.org/about-us

[3] UKRI (2019). Prime Minister announces cutting-edge modern slavery research centre, last accessed 11 September 2020:
https://ahrc.ukri.org/newsevents/news/prime-minister-announces-cutting-edge-modern-slavery-research-centre/

[4] Mee, E., (2019). Hundreds of trafficking victims held in immigration detention centres, Sky News. Last accessed 1 September 2020:https://news.sky.com/story/hundreds-of-trafficking-victims-held-in-immigration-detention-centres-11759284

[5] Taylor, D., (2019). More than 500 victims of trafficking detained in 2018, UK study finds. The Guardian. Last accessed 1 September 2020: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/jul/09/more-than-500-victims-of-trafficking-detained-in-2018-uk-study-finds

[6] Bulman, M., (2019) Home Office accused of covering up plight of hundreds of trafficking victims wrongly detained. The Independent. Last accessed 1 September 2020: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/home-office-modern-slavery-trafficking-victims-immigration-detention-detained-foi-data-a9007251.html

[7] Esslemont, M., (2019). Supported or Deported? Understanding the deportation and detention data held on human trafficking and slavery, After Exploitation. Last accessed 1 September 2020: https://afterexploitation.com/reports/

[8] Westminster Hall Debate. Immigration Detention: Trafficking and Modern Slavery. 9 July 2019, Vol 663. Last accessed 1 September 2020: https://bit.ly/2G2w5mv

[9] Fields, F., (2019). Immigration Detention: Victims of Modern Slavery. 17 July 2019. Vol 663. Hansard. Last accessed 1 September 2020: https://bit.ly/3mS20Kv

[10] Coaker, V., (2019) Prime Minister’s Questions, 24 July 2019. 12:38:04. Last accessed 1 September 2020: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/f5cde8c8-11c2-457d-8b88-627d8ab4e5fb?in=12:00:35

[11] After Exploitation, (2019). Victim Support (Modern Slavery) Bill: After Exploitation welcomes calls for data transparency. Last accessed 3 September 2020: https://afterexploitation.com/2019/10/29/victim-support-modern-slavery-bill-after-exploitation-welcomes-calls-for-data-transparency/

[12] Full correspondence accessible: https://afterexploitation.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/scan_0005-1.pdf

[13] Taylor, D,. (2020). Thousands of potential trafficking victims ‘not given vital support’, The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jun/24/thousands-of-potential-trafficking-victims-not-given-vital-support

[14] Bulman, M., (2020). Thousands of suspected trafficking victims ‘slipping through the net’ when identified by authorities, figures show, MSN News and The Independent. Last accessed 25 September 2020: https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/thousands-of-suspected-trafficking-victims-slipping-through-net-when-identified-by-authorities-figures-show/ar-BB15T7Hl

[15] FOI request accessible via What Do They Know: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/ms1_forms

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