The Modern Slavery Act 2015
The Modern Slavery Bill was introduced to Parliament on 10 June 2014 and the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (“the Act”) was passed into law on 26 March 2015.
- Consolidates the existing slavery and trafficking offences
- Introduces two new civil orders which enable the courts to place restrictions on those convicted of modern slavery offences or those who are not yet convicted of such crimes
- Establishes the need for an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner
- Provides a route to seizing traffickers’ assets and channelling those funds towards compensation payments to victims
- Creates a new statutory defence for victims who were forced to commit criminal offences
What is modern slavery?
Identifying potential victims of modern slavery can be extremely difficult because the crime is not one dimensional. The government’s main aim in enacting this piece of legislation was to reduce the threat of groups who are carrying out modern slavery whilst reducing the vulnerability of individuals by strengthening safeguards.
Modern slavery “encompasses slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour and human trafficking. Traffickers and slave drivers coerce, deceive and force individuals against their will into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment. Victims may be sexually exploited, forced to work for little or no pay or forced to commit criminal activities against their will. Victims are often pressured into debt-bondage and are likely to be fearful of those who exploit them, who will often threaten and abuse victims and their families. All of these factors make it very difficult for victims to escape.”
The Scope of the Act
Perpetrators of this crime are often opportunistic individuals who take advantage of a vulnerable person. Part 5 of the Act focuses solely on the protection of victims, which campaigners believed was missing from the original bill proposed by Parliament. Under section 45 of the Act, there is a statutory defence for victims who have been forced to commit a criminal offence as a direct consequence of their position. This element of the Act allows victims to regain control of their lives and not be forever persecuted for a situation so out of their control.
An important development from the Act is Section 54 which requires certain commercial organisations to report the steps they are taking to ensure slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in their own business. The government have told us that the Act is in place to “encourage businesses to do more, not just because they are legally obliged to, but also because they recognise it is the right thing to do.”
The important thing to remember is that not all cases of modern slavery involve trafficking individuals overseas, but often they evolve in the United Kingdom and are taking place under our noses.
This Act has been branded by many as a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see the impact the Act has had in the run up to its first year anniversary.