Heroes of modern slavery: Caroline Haughey

1 September 2017

Caroline Haughey prosecuted on the first modern slavery case. SM celebrates some of the many – and increasing – heroes of modern slavery

The prosecutor
Caroline Haughey

It was, says criminal barrister Caroline Haughey, something of a fluke that she ended up prosecuting on the first modern slavery case in Britain, in April 2011. Her experience of working with vulnerable witnesses meant the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) approached her about the case, which involved the trafficking of an African woman. “Once I’d done the first one, it evolved from there,” she says. “I feel passionately about the area. You get sucked in.”

Since then, Haughey has played a major role in drafting anti-slavery legislation in the UK, as well as prosecuting on many cases. She helped develop the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and was asked by Theresa May to lead an independent review into the effectiveness of the act a year on.

Her main areas of interest were making modern slavery and human trafficking a primary target of the government; making the law easier to understand, and making sentences more commensurate with the crime. “The maximum sentence [for human trafficking] was 14 years,” she says. “You would get more time if you smuggled two kilos of cocaine than 1,000 human beings. I felt that was morally wrong.” She emphasises she was by no means alone in wanting those measures: “I was one person with good vocal chords.”

Haughey’s independent review, which was broadly positive but recommended more consistent training in dealing with modern slavery, better intelligence and more structured approaches to investigating it, got “significant traction”. “And not just because [May] had changed jobs, but because there is a changing mood,” she says. May announced a £33.5m funding boost to fighting modern slavery, based on Haughey’s review.

Police forces are now far more engaged and she finds it heartening that the various forces that could expose and prosecute individuals are collaborating. For example: “Where we can’t succeed through policing, reporting someone for an HMRC or health and safety inspection is quite effective.”

While the legislation surrounding supply chains was originally “hotly contested because it was seen as another impingement on business”, Haughey is encouraged that big companies – she cites Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and H&M – are standing up and being counted.

“People don’t want to be criminal employers, because that is what it is: bad employment has become criminal employment,” she says. “You are criminally negligent and liable.”

There is a link for businesses between modern slavery and involvement in money laundering, bribery and corruption more widely, she adds. “The reality is, if you have exploitation in your supply chain, somebody is gaining financially and you are facilitating that. Theoretically you are a money launderer because you are encouraging and inciting criminal activity and facilitating someone’s financial gain.”

Prosecuting under the act and helping victims is “a privilege”. “I am only an advocate for the people who do the hard work: police officers, the CPS, the GLAA,” she says. She is most proud of the change in attitudes. “[Modern slavery] is no longer just an offence: it’s a national threat as directed by the prime minister. It’s been given the attention it deserves.”

While she feels the law should evolve, she says the legislation needs to bed in before significant changes are made. But she would like to see society open its eyes to labour exploitation.

“Sex exploitation is so black and white,” she says. “But labour exploitation is just as bad. It’s stealing someone’s life. You steal their choices. You steal their freedom. And all that drives this is money: cutting corners and profiting at someone else’s expense.”

The supplier: Shayne Tyler

The campaigner: Andrew Wallis

The peer: Baroness Young of Hornsey

The barrister: James Ewins

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