Consuls key to combating slavery

Consuls are in the frontline of efforts to tackle modern slavery, Britain’s first AntiModern Slavery Commissioner told the Consular Corps in the run-up to the Modern Slavery Act coming into force at the end of July.

“International collaboration is central to the new Modern Slavery Act,” said Commissioner Kevin Hyland who pledged to work more closely with consulates in the UK.

“Consular staff are often the first contact between victims of human trafficking and the authorities in their own country and they have an important role to play, whether it be in prevention, identifying potential victims, advising citizens of safe migration paths and educating colleagues on how to recognise those at risk of slavery,” he explained.

Consuls do valuable work in victim support which is a key feature of the new Act, said Hyland: “Consuls help by referring victims to relevant service providers and assisting victims with new documentation which may have been confiscated as a means of coercion.”

Hyland encouraged consuls to share information with law enforcement agencies to assist in criminal proceedings and to alert them of any suspicious activity, such as an unusual surge in reports of lost passports which could be a sign of trafficking.

He also offered to provide training for consuls to help them identify potential victims of trafficking or suspicious activity.

Outlining the new Act, Hyland said it would target the criminals behind modern slavery while giving more protection to the victims.

The maximum sentence available for the most serious modern slavery offences has been increased to life imprisonment. Perpetrators will also be subject to the Proceeds of Crime Act, meaning their assets will be seized and the proceeds passed on to victims as reparations.

Victims who had been compelled to commit crimes as a consequence of their enslavement will be given a statutory defence in all but the most serious cases. Special court procedures, such as screening victims from the accused, giving evidence in private, or video link are some of the options available to encourage victims to come forward.

The Act will also partner with British businesses to tackle exploitation in international supply chains. “All businesses above a certain threshold have a legal duty to disclose the steps they have taken to ensure that modern slavery does not take place in their supply chain anywhere in the world,” explained Hyland.

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland