Ireland and Britain fight modern slavery

The British and Irish ambassadors to the Holy See explaining their country's efforts to combat modern slavery

The Superior Generals of Catholic religious Congregations organized a conference on the occassion of the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, with the participation of Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See and other experts.

The Ambassadors of Ireland and Britain spoke about their respective government’s anti-slavery policies.

Derek Hannon, the Irish Ambassador said that Ireland is committed to combatting human trafficking, both “domestically and in cooperation with our international partners”. Central to the “development and execution of our national action plan to combat human trafficking”, is the implementation of the UN Global Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons, the Ambassador said. Ireland developed this plan after consulting “partners” at both the national and international levels, and those representing society at large as well. It contains a “clear, collaborative program to advance the fight against trafficking and enhance protection of victims”. Ireland has also established an anti-trafficking unit, updated its legislation, inaugurated structures at the judicial, investigative and medical levels, and is committed to placing victims and their human rights “at the centre of the response to human trafficking”.

Sally Axworthy, the British Ambassador explained the programs adopted in the UK to eradicate modern forms of slavery. She said that Britain’s modern slavery policy began in 2004 when 23 Chinese fishermen working under slave conditions in Morecombe Bay died because their “gang master” put profit over their safety. “It shocked public opinion that such a thing could happen”, the Ambassador said. Not only is there a modern slavery problem in the UK, the ambassador said, but it also gets a lot of publicity. “In seemingly very normal places, there will be people being trafficked in the UK to work in car washes” or nail bars, she said.

Forced labour and sexual exploitation are the leading areas where victims of trafficking find themselves, followed by domestic labour. Of the roughly 1,650 cases reported to the National Referral Mechanism between April and June 2018, 695, or 42%, involved minors.

Internationally, at any one time in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people were experiencing modern slavery. That means for every thousand people, there are 5.4 victims. One in four victims is a child. Modern slavery affects women and girls disproportionately: 99% of women in the sex industry, and 58% in other forced labour areas.

Prevention is one component of Britain’s response. “There are lots of posters in the UK, telling people how to spot when people are at risk”, Axworthy said. Victim support is a second category through which victims have access to such things as “housing, health care, education counselling” for a period of 45-90 days. Supply chains are a particular focus of scrutiny. Any company with more than 250 employees must “to produce a report saying how they are tackling modern slavery”. In this way companies are encouraged to be aware if there is “slavery in their supply chains”. Bringing human traffickers to justice has resulted in “1000 convictions for modern slavery offenses” since 2010, the Ambassador said.

Along with the Holy See, Britain lobbied for Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 so that it remains on the United Nation’s agenda.