Government attacked for reclassifying slavery as immigration issue

14 October 2022

The UK government has been criticised for a departmental shift in responsibility for tackling modern slavery that will make it “harder identify areas of modern slavery in supply chains”. 

The government has reclassified modern slavery as an “illegal immigration” issue and moved responsibilities from the minister for safeguarding to the minister for immigration.

The decision comes after home secretary Suella Braverman told delegates at the Conservative Party conference people were “gaming” modern slavery laws to gain access to the UK. 

Daniel Sohege, director of slavery consultancy Stand For All, told Supply Managament: “By placing modern slavery under the remit of illegal immigration and asylum it risks ignoring that it is something which happens everywhere, including in the UK.

“Essentially it makes it sound like an immigration offence. For supply chains this risks creating long-term negative impacts, as the focus on protection of potential victims of modern slavery shifts towards the penalisation of those victims.” 

Almost a quarter (23%) of potential modern slavery victims are UK nationals, according to the Office for National Statistics

Sohege continued: “The additional concern is that by making the focus on modern slavery an immigration matter, rather than safeguarding as it previously was, it makes it harder for the victims of it to feel safe coming forward.

“This means that the authorities, and companies, will find it harder identify areas of modern slavery in their supply chains and take action to deal with those who are engaged in exploitation.”

The government has faced criticism it is scaling back on safeguarding against labour abuses. 

The role of the independent anti-slavery commissioner has been left unfilled since April after Dame Sara Thornton’s three-year term came to an end.

Meanwhile, the number of people issued seasonal worker visas has risen by 1,500% since 2019, raising the risk of abuse. 

Malcolm Harrison, group CEO of CIPS, told SM that “awareness of modern slavery in the supply chain is in danger of falling off the radar”.

“Without an anti-slavery commissioner in place, and a slowdown in the number of investigations the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority have been able to complete, there could be less support for organisations when abuses are found. So it is more important than ever for our profession to be vigilant.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery and in the UK we have a world-leading response. However, it is clear people are abusing our system when they have no right to be here, in order to frustrate their removal.”

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