Wilberforce Institute Researcher Delivers Climate Change Recommendations in Parliament

Saphia Fleury

PhD Student, Falling Through the Net Cluster

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

S.Fleury-2019@hull.ac.uk

Saphia Fleury talks about her research on climate change and the opportunity it gave her to present evidence to parliamentarians last month.

Influencing government policy is a key aim of academia and a strong motivator for many who choose to study for a PhD at the University of Hull. One effective way to achieve change is by submitting evidence to UK parliamentary inquiries and government consultations. (Information about inquiries and consultations in Wales and Scotland is accessible via the websites of the Senedd Cymru and Scottish Parliament). 

My research looks at how people migrate in the context of climate change and natural disasters and the protection gaps that need filling to protect migrants’ human rights. In May, I submitted written evidence to the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Climate Change, which looks at new security threats arising from environmental change. My evidence demonstrated the links between violent struggles and environmental change, from community conflict to wars on an international scale.

As well as having my evidence published on the Committee’s website, I was invited to present it in person in Parliament on 1 November. Contributors are frequently asked to speak as witnesses before formal committee meetings, but on this occasion the format was a little different. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association invited ministers and MPs from across the Commonwealth to join UK parliamentarians to explore emerging security threats arising from climate change, cybersecurity and other phenomena. The session to which I was invited was chaired by Dame Margaret Beckett and heard evidence from Professor Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti on the UK defence apparatus’ approach to climate change, and Dr Stuart Parkinson on the carbon footprint of the military and the threat to climate stability from nuclear weapons.

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, London, UK. Photo courtesy of Marcin Nowak at Unsplash.

I focused my presentation on the four main drivers of climate-induced insecurity: extreme weather events including flash floods and hurricanes; slower, creeping changes such as drought; pandemics and the spread of disease vectors; and human displacement. On the last point, I described how it can be difficult to ascribe human migration to environmental factors alone, since people leave their homes for multiple, complex reasons for which climate change may be a trigger. Nevertheless, changes to the environment play an increasing role in driving people to seek better living conditions elsewhere and the world has not adequately prepared for the human rights crisis that may ensue.

To this end, I made three recommendations to the decision-makers in the room. First, migration should be prevented at source with a robust disaster response, sufficient funding for adaptation, and protecting and fulfilling people’s human rights in situ. Second, accepting that some migration will always occur and can indeed be a positive adaptation measure in itself, people on the move must be protected through safe and orderly migration routes and protection measures, even if they don’t meet the internationally recognised definition of a ‘refugee’. Third, planned resettlement should be facilitated by governments when changes to the environment render it impossible for people to remain in their community or country. In the latter case, affected individuals should be fully consulted in relocation planning and given support to move to new homes and, where necessary, new livelihoods. By implementing these changes through bilateral and multilateral agreements, governments can help to stem the flow of dangerous, irregular migration that harms the migrants themselves and risks triggering political backlash and community conflict.

The high level of engagement with the issue of climate change by those parliamentarians present was clear from the numerous questions posed during the session. Delegates from small island states and developing nations spoke of the urgent need for adaptation support from high-income countries and the inevitability that some of their citizens would have to be relocated, either temporarily or permanently. The delegate from Belize spoke movingly about an evacuation that was currently underway in his country to move people out of the path of an incoming hurricane. The intensity and frequency of hurricanes in the Caribbean Basin, where Belize is situated, is increasing as rising global temperatures warm the sea and air. The perspectives of delegates from Commonwealth countries and British Overseas Territories served to remind all present that climate change is not a theoretical, future problem, but a lived reality for millions of British and Commonwealth citizens globally. There has never been a more urgent time for researchers to make their findings heard by those in power.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, addressing parliamentarians on 1 November 2022. © Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK. Images Copyright http://www.tellingphotography.com

We don’t know enough to effectively protect those who experience criminal exploitation

Dr Alicia Kidd

Lecturer in Modern Slavery

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

A.Kidd@hull.ac.uk

In this blog, produced for the Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre [PEC], Dr Kidd looks at the defence for those who face criminal liability as a result of modern slavery under Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

What do we know about how we protect those who experience criminal exploitation from further harm? People forced into criminal exploitation by their traffickers should be protected from the further harm of being charged for crimes they had no choice but to commit. The UK Modern Slavery Act offers protection for such cases, however, we don’t know if it’s doing its job effectively.

Criminal exploitation is a growing problem. In the UK in 2021, 6,100 people were identified as potential victims of criminal exploitation, 4,155 of whom had experienced only this form of exploitation (figures are collated from the data tables accessible via the End of Year Summary). This accounts for 48% of all potential cases of modern slavery identified in that year.

People who experience criminal exploitation inhabit an unusual position of being both a victim of modern slavery and a perpetrator of the crimes they were made to commit. This means that there can be confusion amongst professionals around how to best respond to such situations.

Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act offers a statutory defence for those who face criminal liability for a criminal act that they committed as a consequence of their modern slavery or human trafficking experience. It was designed to reassure people that they could give evidence without fear of being convicted for offences they had committed as part of their exploitation.

For people aged 18 or over, the Act states that a person is not guilty of an offence if they were compelled to commit it, if that compulsion is attributable to their exploitative situation, and if a reasonable person in the same situation with relevant characteristics would have no realistic alternative to committing it. Children are not guilty if the criminal act was a direct consequence of their exploitation and a reasonable person in the same situation with relevant characteristics would have also committed the act.

However, even seven years after the implementation of Section 45 with the Modern Slavery Act of 2015, it is difficult to gather an accurate picture of how the defence is understood and used in practice. The Modern Slavery PEC and the Wilberforce Institute are publishing a review of how this defence has been used so far

Our review has shown that, to date, there is very limited information available on the use of Section 45. There have been two independent reviews of the Modern Slavery Act which make reference to Section 45, and one report from the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner which was based on a call for evidence about Section 45 specifically. However, there is a lack of information regarding the commissioning process and methodologies of these reports.

Further, no quantitative data is collected on the use of Section 45, academic involvement in the reviews has been limited, and no one with lived experience was consulted for the reviews. These factors combined mean that producing accurate insights and robust generalisations about how Section 45 is used is impossible. We can’t currently generate a true picture of who is using the defence, what crimes they are using it for, or identify and rectify any barriers to success.

There is also a lack of legal clarity regarding how closely the offence should be connected to the modern slavery experience for the defence to be justified, with no clear definition offered within the Modern Slavery Act. Case law continues to develop and challenge how the defence should be implemented in practice. However, without adequate and consistent training for professionals, those who experience criminal exploitation could have truly differing experiences of using the defence, based entirely on the levels of knowledge that the lawyers and judges associated with their cases have on modern slavery and Section 45.

If used suitably, the statutory defence holds real potential to be able to support victims of modern slavery without punishing them for crimes they had no choice but to commit. However, much remains to be done to make sure that becomes a reality.

Based on available evidence, in order to improve both the use and understanding of Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act, reviews of the legislation should offer clarity regarding the commissioning process and methodologies used, so that the reviews can accurately be recreated for future comparisons. They should also incorporate insights from academics working in relevant fields, and always seek the input of people with lived experience.

We need more data to be able to make informed decisions about improving Section 45. As a priority, the Government needs to collect quantitative data on the use and outcomes of the defence in order to understand the types of cases in which it is used, barriers to success, and how it might be vulnerable to misuse.

Finally, it’s clear that adequate training for police, lawyers and the judiciary is fundamental if Section 45 is to be used in the way it was intended: to serve the best interests of victims of modern slavery. This training should include insights into potential bias based on notions of the ‘ideal’ victim, so that people who were forced to commit crimes as a result of slavery or trafficking can be fully protected from further harm.