Combating modern slavery in the Humber

Andrew Smith

Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

a.smith9@hull.ac.uk

Andrew Smith, Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, introduces the first Modern Slavery strategy for this region

To coincide with Anti-Slavery Day, the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership has launched the first Modern Slavery Strategy for the Humber region. This progressive move sets the tone for partnership action over the next three years in combatting this despicable crime.

Modern slavery is a devastating crime, often hidden in plain sight. Exploiters profit from the misery of others by forcing them to work for little or no pay, restricting movement, withholding passports, bank cards and ID documents. Threats, control, and coercion are a common theme in modern slavery, playing on the disadvantage or desperation of others to elicit profit and gain. Trafficking for labour exploitation or sexual exploitation is a common theme across the United Kingdom and we are aware that the exploitation of children by organised crime groups across county lines is on the rise.

Spanning all four local authority areas in our region, this new, overarching strategy brings together statutory and non-statutory partners including law enforcement, academics and health and third sector professionals to give a focused and targeted approach to modern slavery and human trafficking.

Led by partnership coordinator Andrew Smith, whose position is funded by the Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner, a period of consultation helped shape the six robust strategic priorities that spearhead this strategy and speak firmly to would-be exploiters that the Humber region will not tolerate this crime.

Partnership coordinator Andrew Smith said:

‘Protecting vulnerable people, victims and survivors is at the heart of this new strategic plan. Working together in true partnership across all sectors will see us build more resilient communities that are able to deflect and dismiss those looking to exploit them.

Collaboration and coordination are recognised as the most effective way of tackling modern slavery in our communities. Creating a strong partnership approach in Humberside, where different members can bring their skills and strengths to the fight, means we are in a better position than ever before to make lasting change.

The commitment by Police and Crime Commissioner Keith Hunter to fund the

partnership coordinator role and support the creation of our dedicated Operation Wilberforce

police team means that our anti-slavery efforts are now firmly part of daily business.

Using academic research to inform practice is a vital component of this fight, and together with our colleagues at the Wilberforce Institute we aim to integrate the learning from research into our response.’

Dr Alicia Kidd, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wilberforce Institute and Vice Chair of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership said:

‘The Humber Modern Slavery Partnership was established in 2015 and it’s fantastic to see the progress made in those years. This new strategy will be instrumental in ensuring we move forward in providing the most effective, comprehensive approach to modern slavery in our region.’

Police and Crime Commissioner Keith Hunter said:

‘Modern slavery preys on the most vulnerable members of our community. In the Humber area, police and wider partners including the Modern Slavery Partnership are committed to tackling this form of exploitation by collectively raising awareness of modern slavery, encouraging the community to report concerns, supporting victims and those vulnerable to exploitation, and bringing those responsible to justice.’

DCI Chris Calvert, Force strategic lead for Modern Slavery, Operation Wilberforce, said:

‘Although you may not see it, modern slavery exists in our communities and sadly it often goes unnoticed. Vulnerable people in our society are being exploited by organised criminal gangs for their own benefit.

Vulnerable people remain Humberside’s main priority, which is why a dedicated taskforce specialising in modern day slavery and human trafficking offences has been established.

Operation Wilberforce’s priorities are to protect the victims of modern slavery and bring the offenders to justice.

Working with the partnership is crucial to achieving our aims, raising awareness and gathering intelligence, bringing the skills and services of all our partnership agencies to protect our most vulnerable.’

To report a suspicion or seek advice, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or

visit the webpage for further information and advice at www.modernslaveryhelpline.org  

For further information please contact Andrew Smith on 07960 016762 or a.smith9@hull.ac.uk

Summary of author’s recent publications

Dr Alicia Kidd

Postdoctoral Researcher

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

alicia.kidd@hull.ac.uk

Today Alicia Kidd, postdoctoral researcher at the Wilberforce Institute, provides a summary of two of her recent chapters on human trafficking.

Both can be found in Julia Muraszkiewicz, Toby Fenton and Hayley Watson, eds, Human Trafficking in Conflict: Context, Causes and the Military (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), at https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030408374

‘Unavoidable Exploitation? Conflict, Agency and Human Trafficking’

In this first chapter, I look at those who find themselves caught up in human trafficking and conflict. Both are topics that have received significant attention within the Social Sciences. However, there is little literature that looks explicitly at the intersections between the two, or that considers if – and how – conflict might impact a person’s risk of being trafficked. What does exist focuses predominantly on child soldiers and post-conflict zones.

As a result I begin with a summary of the literature surrounding child soldiers. It concentrates on how child soldiers fit the definition of being victims of human trafficking, the ways that child soldiers are recruited, their experiences whilst attached to an armed force or group, and how their experiences continue to affect them long after they leave, or after the conflict ends.

My focus then turns to post-conflict zones and how the long-lasting effects of conflict can continue to put people at risk of trafficking even after the conflict has ended. The existing literature highlights a range of issues leading to human trafficking in post-conflict situations including economic and political restructuring, corruption and poverty, as well as the vulnerabilities faced by refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and children; these topics are all discussed.

Whilst this chapter summarises current knowledge of the links between conflict and human trafficking, I build upon this knowledge by introducing the findings gathered from in-depth face-to-face interviews with individuals who have fled conflict to the UK. These findings provide personal insights into experiences of how conflict can increase a person’s vulnerability to becoming a victim of human trafficking.

Understandings of human trafficking often revert to an assumption that all agency must have been removed from the victim. While some victims of trafficking have no agency in the lead up to their trafficking experience, others have some level of choice in the decisions that lead towards their exploitation. Collating the existing literature and the findings from the interviews, I argue in this chapter that conflict impacts a person’s agency to the extent that it increases a person’s risk of being trafficked. Conflict restricts the choices available to a person, leaving them to choose between limited options which are commonly all imbued with risk. But while their choices may all be undesirable, people do exercise agency within the narrow range of options available to them, and some of these choices will lead to exploitation. As such, I argue that victimhood and agency should not be understood as a binary, but on a spectrum.

‘How Definitions of ‘Child Soldiers’ Exclude Girls from Demobilisation Efforts’ (with Dr Ally Dunhill)

The definition ‘child soldier’ is commonly understood to refer to any person under 18 used in any capacity by armed forces or groups; this includes armed combatants, but also those in ancillary roles such as cooks, ‘wives’ and guards. Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes exist to encourage soldiers to give up their weapons, to take them out of service, and to resettle them into civilian society. Such programmes aim to create stability, re-establish security and create the conditions needed for peace. However, while DDR programmes claim to be aimed at everyone involved in armed forces or armed groups, regardless of their role, in practice, they often use much narrower definitions for child soldiers, focusing predominantly on those who carry a weapon; this serves to exclude many roles typically undertaken by girls. 

In this chapter, co-written with Ally Dunhill, we examine the remit and outcomes of DDR programmes to understand why they differentiate between the gendered experiences of child soldiers. Using examples of these programmes, we analyse how children are identified and recruited into such initiatives. We contemplate whether children’s experiences as being part of armed forces (belonging to a state) and armed groups (not under the clear control of a state authority) are adequately considered, and whether the gendered treatment in these programmes is conducive to long term recovery and reintegration into civilian communities. We explore how girls are often overlooked in definitions of child soldiers and highlight the harmful consequences of this. We then assess how the outcomes of the programmes impact the futures of those both included and excluded in the remit of the programmes.

We find that in failing to recognise girls as victims in these situations, DDR programmes are leaving them in precarious situations whereby they have left a trafficking situation only to find themselves in a vulnerable position, facing a lack of support and a high risk of re-exploitation. Building on existing literature on female child soldiers, this chapter highlights the need for further research and concludes with recommendations for generating more effective and inclusive efforts to support female children associated with armed forces or armed groups.

Human Trafficking in Conflict: Context, Causes and the Military (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), at https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030408374

Labour Exploitation in Supply Chains

Dr Alicia Kidd

Postdoctoral Researcher

Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

alicia.kidd@hull.ac.uk

Dr Kidd is particularly interested in bridging the gap between academia and practice in relation to modern slavery and, alongside her academic post, is the Vice Chair of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, a position she has held since 2016. She also works with the Risk Assessment Service at the Wilberforce Institute, which supports businesses in identifying and mitigating risks of labour exploitation in supply chains. The blog below was commissioned by Crimestoppers to coincide with their recent campaign on modern slavery. We have replicated the piece here so that it can be made available to a wider audience.

Modern slavery is a term used to refer to extreme forms of exploitation including sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, domestic servitude, criminal exploitation and even organ harvesting. These crimes affect both adults and children and aren’t limited to gender or nationality. In fact, in 2019 UK nationals constituted the largest single nationality of people referred into the National Referral Mechanism – the UK government’s system for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery.

Since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, many businesses have become aware of the term ‘modern slavery’, because of the requirement the Act places on businesses. Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act is the Transparency in Supply Chains clause which, in summary, requires any business which operates (at any level) in the UK with an annual turnover of £36 million or more to produce an annual modern slavery statement which is publicly accessible.

While the compliance rate fluctuates (currently around 79% of companies required to publish a statement have done so), so too does the quality of the reports, which often betray a limited understanding of the crime, how it might affect a business and how best to respond (though it must be noted that the content of the statements is not officially assessed; compliance rests entirely on whether or not a statement is published, regardless of what the statement says).

Labour exploitation is the most common form of modern slavery identified in the UK and it is important that businesses have a good working knowledge of how to protect their supply chains from it. Below are some practical steps that businesses can take to limit risk.

  1. First of all, when you begin to look for labour exploitation in your supply chain, you should expect to find it. Exploiters will always aim to be at least one step ahead and concerns may not initially be apparent. Those who are being exploited may be reluctant to come forward, so the onus is on you to identify an issue rather than relying on it being brought to your attention.
  1. While it is important for directors and management to be aware of what modern slavery is and how it presents, especially in regards to developing a high-quality modern slavery statement, they are unlikely to be the ones that come into contact with exploitation within the supply chain. Training should be targeted at the lowest level, to ensure that those who are likely to come into contact with potential victims are aware of what to look for and what they should do if they have concerns.
  1. You should create safe reporting mechanisms within your organisation so that potential victims, or those that have concerns, have somewhere to ask for support or share information. Guidance on how to report into this mechanism should be readily available to all staff. However, don’t share how you will act on intelligence, as once this information reaches an exploiter, they will find a way to work around it. Consider it a positive when concerns are raised as this means that your reporting mechanism is effective.
  1. While a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to modern slavery might seem logical, it could actually encourage rather than deter exploitation. Instead of ending a contract with a supplier you have concerns over, provide them with a list of issues they need to fix and a deadline by which these must be done. Only if that date comes and significant progress has not been made should you end the contract. To end the contract at the first concern runs the risk of allowing the exploiter to continue to operate elsewhere and potentially failing to get assistance to the people who need it.
  1. Provide all staff with information on their rights and entitlements in languages they can access.
  1. If possible, run regular informal worker interviews with all staff so that you have the chance to speak with workers individually. If this is established as standard practice then it provides the opportunity to have private conversations with staff members without raising alarm bells for exploiters. Getting to know your workers in this way is also a method of demonstrating that you are proactive about due diligence.

If you have concerns about exploitation in your supply chain, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) may be able to offer assistance. The GLAA exists to protect vulnerable and exploited workers and investigate reports of labour exploitation, human trafficking, forced labour, illegal labour provision and offences that sit under the National Minimum Wage Act and The Employment Agencies Act. You can report a concern to GLAA on 0800 432 0804.

Workers in the agricultural sector can be at high risk of exploitation and abuse