Examination of Witnesses

Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 21 Gorffennaf 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lucy Maule, Andrew Wallis and Kate Roberts gave evidence

Q 45

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Llafur, Bolton North East

We have until 5.30 pm to hear from this set of witnesses. Before I call Members to ask questions, will the witnesses please introduce themselves?

Lucy Maule: I am Lucy Maule, senior researcher at the Centre for Social Justice and author of the CSJ report, “It Happens Here”.

Kate Roberts: I am Kate Roberts, a community advocate at the charity Kalayaan, which works with migrant domestic workers in the UK.

Andrew Wallis: I am Andrew Wallis, CEO of Unseen UK. I chaired the working report for the CSJ.

Q 46

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If I may, I would like to focus my question on Kate. The Joint Committee considered the question of overseas domestic workers and made recommendations about the reintroduction of some mechanism to examine how we can improve the situation for them, based on the changes made two years ago. What is your view on the effect of those changes? Are there any recommendations that the Committee should examine to improve the situation?

Kate Roberts: In my view, based on what I have seen through working directly with migrant domestic workers at Kalayaan, the changes that were introduced in April 2012 tying domestic workers to their employers have been disastrous in terms of the treatment of those workers. They have definitely resulted in an increase in the exploitation and abuse of those workers.

On a practical level for Kalayaan, they have resulted in us being able to do far less to help people who have been badly exploited, including trafficked. Prior to this evidence session, I was speaking to my colleagues and gave the example of a woman who came to Kalayaan a number of weeks ago. She was distraught and had recently left very exploitative working conditions—I think she was paid about £26 a week, working long hours with no freedom. She did not have her documents and she had no money. We identified her as trafficked and talked to her about her options, including the national referral mechanism. After a day of us talking to her about what ways we could support her according to the law, she told us that she did not want help, and we understand that she was actually returning to her traffickers.

In my view, the preventing of domestic workers from changing employer has not only affected what happens to them after they escape, in terms of them being unable to access justice in this country because once they leave, they are in breach of the immigration laws and are destitute; it has resulted in a message to exploitative employers that they can control the worker and really treat them how they like, because there is no recourse to justice.

Q 47

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

What is your assessment of how many people are affected by the current regulation change? What is the potential for the regulation change to increase some of the challenges they face? You have mentioned poor levels of pay, but are there other things that potentially affect domestic workers?

Kate Roberts: When domestic workers first come to Kalayaan, we ask them about the employment they recently left, or from which they recently escaped. It is clear that domestic workers who are tied to their employers are more likely to report having been physically abused or not being allowed out of the house. Almost three quarters of those on the tied visa report never being allowed out of the house in which they lived and worked—never being allowed out unsupervised—compared with less than half of those on the original visa. They report having no space of their own and not having their own room. They either share a room with a child, often sleeping on the floor, or sleep in the lounge or kitchen. They report never having any privacy, not having their passport, working incredibly long hours  and being on call to work any time at all. Many report psychological abuse. There are significantly more reports of abuse against those on the tied visa than against those on the original visa who entered prior to being tied to their employer.

Q 48

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Do you have any indication of the number of such individuals?

Kate Roberts: One of the questions we ask is about hours worked. Some 53% of those on the tied visa reported working more than 16 hours a day, compared with 32% of those on the original visa. Sixty per cent. of those on the tied visa reported being paid less than £50 a week, compared with 36% on the original visa. Those figures are taken from people we have seen in the two years since the tied visa was introduced. I am not talking about referrals to the NRM, because obviously we can only do that with an individual’s consent—we are a first responder, but they have to consent. Our internal assessment is that tied individuals who come to us are twice as likely to be trafficked as those who are not tied—it is 69% versus 26%.

Q 49

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

What would you say about that?

Kate Roberts: In our view, the tied visa, as it is, seriously undermines the intentions of the Bill. For the Government to carry out their commitment to be a world leader against slavery and to produce a world-class Bill, it is important to reverse the changes that were introduced in 2012, primarily by restoring the right of domestic workers to change employer.

Q 50

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The 2012 regulations were regulations. They were not primary legislation.

Kate Roberts: No, they were in the immigration rules.

Q 51

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Do you see a role for the Bill in overturning those issues?

Kate Roberts: Yes. It has been shown time and again that domestic workers are a particularly vulnerable group, and if the Government are concerned about domestic servitude, they would do well to ensure the protection of domestic workers in the Bill, possibly in the form of an amendment. Principally, domestic workers need to be able to change employer and, if they are in full-time employment, they need to be able to renew their visa. They need to be recognised as workers with access to UK employment law. Bearing in mind how vulnerable they are, even with those rights we would like to see the right to settlement reinstated because otherwise domestic workers, as soon as they become pregnant or sick, are liable to be sacked.

Q 52

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

On that point, what is your view of the defence set out elsewhere in the Bill? It strikes me that that defence may be possible for a person leaving tied employment in this scenario. If they did so and stayed in the UK, they would be committing a crime under immigration law. Is it your view that the defence would help that individual? I am referring to the defence dealt with in part 4 of the Bill.

Kate Roberts: No. The Bill as it stands does not protect domestic workers. It looks at people who have been enslaved. The original protections, which were  recognised internationally as good practice for domestic workers—they were introduced in 1998 and included in the immigration rules in 2002 in recognition of the vulnerability of domestic workers—prevented the worst of the exploitation to a large extent. It would be far better to prevent people becoming enslaved than to attempt to deal with them once they have been enslaved, exploited or trafficked.

We are also concerned that the defence within the Bill would not protect the majority of domestic workers because they will be too fearful to come forward, having been told by their employers that they are breaching the immigration laws when they leave. They are very controlled, isolated and dependent on their employers for information. I recently had a client at Kalayaan who was identified through the NRM as trafficked at the reasonable grounds stage. She escaped her employers. She then called the police, who accompanied her to the employers’ apartment, got her passport back and washed their hands of her. She doesn’t have a contact number for them. The point is that a lot of people will fall through the net and these protections will not apply to them. Without preventive protections, allowing someone to change their employer and renew their visa, they will not get to the stage where they have an advocate to help them take advantage of any measures contained within the Bill, which we would argue are not really sufficient to protect domestic workers anyway.

Q 53

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

Do you think the other aspect of the previous regulations that enabled the person to be employed for longer periods ought to be reinstated?

Kate Roberts: Yes, definitely. What we are arguing for is only that a domestic worker can remain in the UK if they can prove full-time employment with no recourse to public funds, as a domestic worker in that specific sector—only if there is a demand for their labour. They would have to apply to the Home Office to renew their visa every year, which provides a level of scrutiny on their employment conditions. At the moment, they are driven underground; they are criminalised. If the Home Office is not satisfied that the employment is genuine, they should ask more questions before renewing the visa.

At present it is a six-month non-renewable visa. Changing employers within six months would not help them at all, as far as I can see. You would leave the first employer, having been massively exploited and with no reference. If you have left because you have not been paid for, say, four months, you have two months left on your visa; that is not even time to go to an employment tribunal, let alone support and accommodate yourself while doing that. In theory, you could get another job but who is going to employ you on a two-month visa for a task? Domestic work involves inviting someone into your house, often to care for your children or an elderly person. It is longer-term employment.

Q 54

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

Moving away from the visas question and on to other protections that need to be afforded to victims of slavery or trafficking, you have already said that you think part 4 of the Bill is not enough. How do you think it should be improved?

Kate Roberts: There are several things we would like to see. One thing we think is really important is bringing the national referral mechanism on to a statutory footing.  In our view, a lot needs to be done within the national referral mechanism. We think that the 45 days is not enough. We think it needs to be removed from the competent authority as they stand. A lot of evidence has been given on the decision making and the difference between the different competent authorities. We would very much want to see it removed from the control of UKVI. We would like to see residence permits used more readily. In our experience they are only ever provided where there is a criminal prosecution. We think there needs to be more.

Obviously there is the review of the NRM going on at the moment but there needs to be a look at the quality provided to people who are accommodated and supported. At the moment it seems to be a little bit arbitrary. People are accommodated where there appears to be a vacancy. Sometimes very needy people do not have very much support, including support to access legal representation. They have access to legal aid but they still need to secure legal representatives. They also need support in moving on and rebuilding their lives.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Llafur, Bolton North East

Do the other witnesses want to add anything to the questions that have been asked?

Andrew Wallis: May I say something? Unseen provides direct services to adult survivors who are within the NRM. There are numerous issues, some reinforcing what Kate said. The 45 days is an arbitrary period, which has a number of problems. The truth is that, at the moment, we have someone falling down the side of a cliff, we give them 45 days in a safety net and then we remove the safety net and they carry on falling down the side of the cliff.

Any economist will tell you that ultimately they are going to go round again and they will end up costing more to the public purse. We need to have a rethink about what we are trying to do with the victims of crime—not immigrants or migrants or anything else—victims of crime. We need to apply the same standards that we would to any UK citizen who is a victim of crime. It is about finding ways to reintegrate these people so that they become resilient members of society. Otherwise they become vulnerable to re-exploitation.

The other issue for those who have a conclusive grounds decision and right to stay in the UK is that they immediately encounter a host of problems. The first is access to a national insurance number, which takes a minimum of 72 days. So if there is a push to get a conclusive grounds decision within that 45-day period, what would you like me to do as a provider of services to victims for those three weeks? Do I make them street homeless? Do you expect the third sector to take all the costs and keep them for those additional days? That means that I am shutting off beds to other victims who are coming through. Given that we operate a 90% occupancy rate all year round, those would create problems.

Though not necessarily for legislation, at policy level we certainly need to align things, so that when someone has gone through the NRM process and a conclusive grounds decision has been made, those other things happen that enable them to begin the process of reintegration and full recovery into society. Without a national insurance number you cannot access jobseeker’s allowance, housing or even go on to a waiting list for housing. There is a host of problems.

There are other issues around trying to comply with the European convention, such as access to counselling. Again counselling during the NRM period, which is fraught anyway with a multitude of issues that a survivor has to address, is entirely the wrong time. When counselling someone who has been a victim of trafficking—and the evidence is that they have suffered something akin to torture—you are just re-traumatising them once you put them into the counselling process.

We need a major rethink around whether we are about creating a safety net or reintegrating survivors into society, so that they can become full members of society, and if they are staying in the UK or overseas, that they are then able to contribute to that society. I think we are a million miles from that at the moment.

In terms of the competent authority, the evidence we took when we did the CSJ review, and the ongoing evidence we have from working with survivors, is the blurred line between what is an asylum issue and what is trafficking. We would say let us address the primary issue. We have presenting before us someone who is potentially a victim of the crime of trafficking, modern slavery or servitude, however it is defined in legislation. Let us deal with that first and, secondly, we can deal with asylum. Let us deal with that first and, secondly, we can deal with asylum. We see too many times when those issues get blurred—when a survivor is interviewed about their asylum status as well as their trafficking status. When we have challenged decisions that have been made, particularly by UKVI, we find that they back down. That means that those engaged in the process are losing confidence in the decision-making processes coming from UKVI. That is not the case with the decisions that come from UKHTC. I know there are complications because you are dealing with foreign nationals, not EEA nationals, but the argument for a single competent authority—in which UKVI contributes to the decision—that is a multidisciplinary team looking at the psychological and medical as well as the legal and immigration status, would get us to the place where we have much more robust decisions that everybody buys into. Then we do not get into a silly merry-go-round of judicial reviews when we want to challenge things because that adds to the cost to the public purse. We need to find something that makes the conclusive and robust decision about whether a person is a victim of crime or not—yes or no—that everybody accepts.

Lucy Maule: I agree that the knock-on effect is a lack of confidence in the NRM. When we were taking evidence from more than 200 individuals, organisations and victims, we found that repeated lack of confidence in the NRM—the lack of transparency within it.

I agree with Andrew that the authority that UKVI has to make decisions at the moment is not appropriate. It is not really fair expect a potential victim to make the welfare case around trafficking to the same agency that is making a decision on whether they have a right to be in the country. Of course, we understand that there is a role for UKVI in that process but it should not be that every case where a victim does not have status in the UK is then transferred to UKVI where there is a host of different issues around their capacity and their case loads.

We spoke with UKBA workers, as they were then, when we were doing the report and they said, “We don’t have time to make these decisions properly.” They were  trying rotation set-ups and one week on, one week off with Border Agency officials and were completely overwhelmed by the case loads. That kind of multi-agency model in UKHTC would be a much more positive way of doing things. We agree that the NRM should be placed on a statutory basis but only after the NRM review has been completed because it is important that we develop an NRM that everyone is happy with and that works. Everyone agrees that it is not working as it is at the moment but we agree that the endpoint to that should be placing it on statutory basis.

Q 55

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

I have some questions for all the witnesses about the anti-slavery commissioner. The function of the proposed anti-slavery commissioner is restricted to galvanising law enforcement and identifying victims. Should the commissioner also have responsibility for victim support?

Andrew Wallis: Yes, it is vital that the commissioner gives voice to the victims in this. We know, from dealing with victims face to face every day, that you learn new things about how the perpetrators of those acts work and how they are constantly changing their tactics. If victims do not have a voice, who is going to give them one? Who is going to inform police, the Government and other agencies that these are the issues that are coming up in the process because, otherwise, where do they go?

Kate Roberts: We would like the commissioner to have more independence than as it stands in the Bill. As it stands, they are very answerable to the Secretary of State. Their powers are limited and we would like to see that addressed, for them to have any real impact.

Lucy Maule: A role for the commissioner, in terms of victim support, is overseeing the Government’s contract delivery. In our research, we found that you have got numerous subcontracting organisations that provide support for victims—Unseen is one—but there is a complete array of standards, ways of operating, ways of dealing with the very tight time frame of 45 days, ways of dealing with UKVI and the Home Office. I would see a really sensible role for the commissioner, perhaps as an increased independent role, to oversee and perhaps offer some kind of qualification, kitemark or something just to make sure that we have got oversight of these organisations. They are all doing incredible work, but with very limited resources; high staff turnover, lots of cases and pressure from the contracting organisation and the MOJ, who deliver the money, to keep things moving and keep victims moving on.

There is a real role for the commissioner there, but we also see the commissioner as an increased role in terms of accountability at a higher level. That is, not just co-ordination of law enforcement. I do not think that the commissioner should just be about co-ordinating police work—there needs to be that higher accountability. One of the primary reasons why the CSJ recommended a commissioner was for that kind of higher level accountability where we did not see a huge amount of leadership. When there was leadership in Government, an election or a reshuffle would happen and then there was a sort of step back in terms of progress, understanding and knowledge of the subject. We saw equivalent roles in places like the USA and the Netherlands where there are people who have fantastic relationships across Government and who are able to galvanise them in  terms of their activity and progress. While law enforcement co-ordination is really important, there needs to be that higher level oversight as well.

Q 56

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

I think part of the answer to that question has sort of pre-empted what I am going to ask next about the independence of the commissioner. I want to ask all three of you so I might as well roll these three questions into one. Do you think that, as it is laid down in the Bill, the commissioner is sufficiently independent from Government? Clause 34(4) says that the commissioner’s remuneration, staff and accommodation would be provided by the Secretary of State as they see fit. Is that right and appropriate?

The Bill also provides for the Secretary of State to approve the commissioner’s plans and reports and determine permitted matters for the commissioner to report on. Should the commissioner have greater autonomy in planning and reporting?

Andrew Wallis: Yes.

Kate Roberts: Yes.

Lucy Maule: I think it is important that the commissioner has—

Andrew Wallis: I think context is important as well. How much do we spend on the war on drugs? Millions if not billions. How much do we spend actually combating and trying to think of how we are going to tackle modern slavery? The International Labour Organisation this year released that the profits—not the turnover—of slavery is $150 billion per annum. We are trying to tackle this issue with both hands tied behind our backs and our feet crossed and we wonder why we do not make headway. There needs to be an element of realism. Part of that is having someone that can galvanise and focus because this issue goes right across Government. It is not just a Home Office issue; it affects business and every single area of Government. Unless you have got someone who can focus with real precision right across the issue and who also has the representation of victims, then good luck.

Lucy Maule: I think it would benefit the Government to have that level of independence. What we saw in the Netherlands was not a negative relationship between the equivalent commissioner and the Government; it was a positive one. It was relationship building, but, we use the phrase, of a “critical friend”. It was someone who could be realistic, who could launch their own inquiries, who could do their own reports. They answered to the equivalent of the Ministry of Justice, but of course there would have to be links with the Home Office and the Home Secretary or relevant Secretary of State. However, I think that a higher level of independence would benefit Government.

Q 57

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Kate, do you want to add anything?

Kate Roberts: I agree very much about the independence. I am concerned that, as it stands, the commissioner is not independent enough and there is a risk that they will not have enough funding to do a serious job, or have the powers to command the information they need to do a serious job.

Q 58

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Do you think clause 34 does not offer the anti-slavery commissioner the independence that they would require for them to do the job properly?

Andrew Wallis: Ultimately, this is about collaborative working and enabling a focal point for that collaborative working to take place. That affects policing, borders, the business community and NGOs. I can understand why Government are nervous about beefing up the role and giving it the powers and independence to do that, because the Government have had their hands bitten in the past, but unless we have a collaborative response to this issue, we will just be coming up with sticking-plaster solutions and not actually turning the tide against it.

Q 59

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Llafur, Rotherham

Mr Wallis, you spoke of the enormity of this crime and having your hands tied behind your back. Looking at the Bill, are there specific areas that we should be building, enhancing or strengthening, and are there omissions that we need to be tackling as well? I ask you, but also the panel.

Andrew Wallis: The glaring question is where business is in all this. At the moment, we have a prosecution Bill with a little bit of prevention, and nothing about partnership. Business is not seen anywhere. The truth is that NGOs and Government are broke. The issues around business, and the vulnerability in its supply chains and practices, are huge and are recognised globally. Businesses want to see Government taking a lead on this issue. They want a level playing field. More and more businesses are starting to come forward. They are saying things privately, but they are getting to the point where they are going to start saying things publicly, looking to Government and saying, “Unless you level the playing field for us, those businesses that do the right thing will be hamstrung, because Government aren’t doing their part.” I think it is key to do that.

On the specifics of transparency in the supply chain, I disagree with the pre-legislative Committee when it said to put it in the Companies Act, because there is a real danger that you will end up penalising just British businesses, and you will not catch private businesses. The point of putting it into the Modern Slavery Bill is to make the playing field level as far and wide as possible. We argue that businesses doing business in the UK over a threshold limit should start disclosing what they are doing.

For those companies that are doing good things, this is not an issue. I would say to those businesses, “Use it to trumpet all the good work that you are doing. Use it to all the commercial advantage you want, in terms of gaining greater market share and all that.” But for those businesses that cut corners and know they are cutting corners or turn a blind eye to it, it means that they will have to start looking at this issue. Then it will become a preventive issue, and it will give something of substance to the Bill in beginning to make the systemic change that needs to take place in order to tackle this issue, both in the UK and globally.

Kate Roberts: For us, a major omission is that overseas domestic workers are not provided for in this Bill. There remains in place a system that facilitates their exploitation. Domestic servitude is a big issue—they are recognised as a particularly vulnerable group—and having that system in place undermines the intentions of this Bill. We cannot understand the reason for the 2012 changes. They have resulted in an increase in exploitation. We and other organisations are left in a position where we are unable to help these workers, because they have no rights in law.

For those who do come forward, there is very little we can do, other than referring to the NRM. So there is an increased cost to the public purse, because those who do take up the service now need accommodation and legal aid because they have got massive immigration cases, whereas before, if they were in a position to work, they could find another job with no recourse to public funds, pay all their costs and pay tax and national insurance. We would like to see that properly enforced and for them to remain visible.

As far as we can see, there has been no effect from an immigration perspective. We were really interested to see that in 2013, there was an increase in the number of visas issued compared with 2012. It does not make sense, and it seems to undermine the intentions of the Bill.

Lucy Maule: As well as the transparency element and the partnership with business, it is about victim protection. If we are looking to increase convictions—if that is one of the main aims of the Bill—we have to protect our victims. We saw again and again victims who were being supported by support aid organisations but had absolutely no involvement with police or any kind of investigation, because they were too damaged, too frightened and not being supported enough. There was a small window for organisations being able to support a victim, and then they were gone. A huge challenge—this was quite difficult to hear when we were doing our research—was that victims who had been through the support service had had to leave and no one had any idea where they were. Some charities thought that some of the women they had looked after might be back in brothels against their will. That is not a success story; that is a failure.

In terms of successful prosecutions and convictions, we need to increase our victim protection and I think that will be done by placing the NRM on a statutory footing. That is one area that is missing, as well as independence of the commissioner.

Q 60

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Llafur, Rotherham

Would you support guardianship, rather than advocates, for children for that reason?

Lucy Maule: That is not an area that we looked into in great detail, so I cannot answer that. Andrew may have a thought on that.

Andrew Wallis: I think the case for guardianship is unproven at the moment. Going on the evidence that we took for the CSJ report, we found systemic failures in understanding how to apply the Children Act and in social services understanding not only that they were a first responder, but what the particular needs of that child were. We found children being shoe-horned into services that were either inappropriate or did not meet those needs.

There is a lot of work to be done in terms of understanding the particular issues, such as psychological issues, faced by a child victim of trafficking and what therapies they need, and the glaring gap in this country is that there is no appropriate accommodation for them to go into. In the worst-case scenario they are put into bed-and-breakfast accommodation or foster situations where the foster parents were not even aware that the child was a victim of trafficking. I would like to see a commitment to seeing social services trained, the correct application of the Children Act, and appropriate accommodation. Then let us review whether we need a guardian.

I have moved on my position. I can see that a legal advocate is needed when you get into the judicial process, so I would be in favour of that, but I fear that full-blown guardianship will be stuck on the top of the system that is failing, and then we will wonder why we have guardians of missing kids and precisely what we are paying them lots of money to do.

Q 61

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Ceidwadwyr, Enfield, Southgate

To what extent is the problem of successful prosecutions down to a lack of clarity in the definition of modern slavery? Clause 1 refers to article 4 of the human rights convention, which describes essentially what it is not. Do you want to see a wider definition of exploitation that covers not just what we see now, but what we might see in future years—the ongoing issues in modern slavery that go beyond the traditional forms—and the issue of compulsion and consent?

Lucy Maule: To start with, it is a massive step forward to have these offences under one Act. When we were doing the CSJ report, one of the biggest problems we found was that we had these disparate offences, some of which were under immigration law and some under criminal law, which made it confusing for police officers and prosecutors to understand. It is a great step forward to have these offences under one Act.

I think that they could go further, but there is then a risk that you accidently encompass crimes other than slavery. The definition of exploitation is very difficult to fathom, but I encourage the Committee to hear from lawyers who will have to take these offences into the courts, prove them to a jury and judge and make them work. I am not legally trained, so I have limited knowledge on that, but bringing them into one Act is a fantastic step forward; it is one of the main reasons why we called for a new Bill in the CSJ report.

Q 62

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Ceidwadwyr, Enfield, Southgate

I appreciate your comments about bringing it all into one Act, but in your evidence did you hear concerns from prosecutors or agencies about there being a problem of lack of understanding and definition?

Lucy Maule: Yes, I think there was definitely a problem of confusion between what was modern slavery and what was exploitation. When it comes to the Bill, it is about explaining that and ensuring that people understand, so that juries are aware of what they are dealing with and what the cases are. In terms of the actual definitions in the Bill, it is not for me to say whether they will work, but we do need to ensure that we are not creating more loopholes rather than sewing up old ones.

Kate Roberts: Again, I think it is important to remember that, unless victims are coming forward, you are not going to get the prosecutions anyway. What you need is a situation where not only do victims come forward, but, when they come into the police station, they are identified as victims rather than immigration offenders.

Andrew Wallis: History is important, in terms of our understanding of what we are dealing with. Historically, we thought we were dealing with sexual exploitation that took place across international boundaries. The Palermo Protocol affected some of that thinking and understanding. We now know that slavery has morphed into a whole load of different areas, which is why the legislation grew up piecemeal.

We have had a journey from understanding it as an immigration issue. Formerly, when it was prosecuted it was seen not as a crime but as an immigration issue, and  the police would default to calling what was then the UK Border Agency. They would say, “Let’s just turf them out of the country”, and not recognise that those people were victims of crime. There must be some consideration and understanding of the fact that this issue will morph over time. To keep up with the issue, the legislation will need to be reviewed regularly—perhaps once every five years—so we can look at what we know about how the crime is manifesting and ask whether we need to adjust the legislation accordingly.

Q 63

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Llafur, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

As you know, my interest in the Bill is specifically in what I consider to be a major omission. First, a simple question: should the Bill include a mandatory, rather than a voluntary, measure on corporate supply chains?

Andrew Wallis: Yes.

Kate Roberts: Yes. It is not my area, but it is clear to me that it should.

Lucy Maule: Yes.

Q 64

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Llafur, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

The Government’s reply has consistently been they will build voluntary ethical partnerships with business. Is that adequate?

Andrew Wallis: If you can come up with evidence of where a voluntary code has been effective right across the piece then, yes, I would go with a voluntary code. However, there is no evidence to prove that they are effective. Added to that, business is beginning to say, “We want you, Government, to do something about this. The only thing you can do is legislate to create a fair and level playing field for us,” so you should legislate.

Lucy Maule: Yes. Voluntary codes tend not to work very well. We have heard from businesses that they are almost craving for a line in the sand that everyone can step over together. I understand that the Government see legislation and business and think, “Ah! We don’t want more red tape”, but the Bill is about working in partnership, enabling businesses and helping them to step over the line together. It does not have to be burdensome or overly harsh; it can be practical. It is about partnership with Government. More and more, we are hearing that business wants that.

Andrew Wallis: Fundamentally, it should be viewed not as red tape but as a measure to protect British business. You need only to look at recent cases, such as those involving the Thai fishing fleet or tea from India, in which UK companies were caught, and at what happened to those businesses. The phenomenal rise of social media in past two or three years, added to 24-hour news services, has led to discussions with business about risk and reputational damage, which affects their share price. I think shareholders are really concerned about this issue, so we need to change the narrative so businesses are encouraged to start looking for and reporting it. Putting in place measures to ensure it cannot happen again will protect them.

Q 65

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Llafur, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

I recognise that line of argument from when Rathbones gave evidence to the Joint Committee on business risk and benefits. My last question is, what  kind of legislation should be in the Bill? It has been argued that an amendment to a section of the Companies Act would be sufficient. Others have argued that there should be something more along the lines of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act or the private Member’s Bill that was unfortunately talked out in this House. What amendments should we table to enable the Bill to deal with the international aspects of human trafficking and slavery in a manner akin to Wilberforce’s aspirations 200 years ago?

Andrew Wallis: The first thing I would say is that supply chains are also in this country. I would refer you to Happy Eggs and the cockle pickers from 10 years ago—I could go on and on. Therefore, the issue of supply chains needs to be dealt with not only internationally. If you put it in the Companies Act, private companies are not mandated to non-financial reporting so large sections of the high street will be exempt because they are in private ownership.

Business also likes consistency around the globe. California has gone first, as Californians are wont to do, but there is an understanding, certainly among global business, around the requirements in the California legislation—for example, on disclosure, on reporting in terms of training, on independent audit, on a company beginning to press down its supply chains and on procurement. I would argue that you take that transparency in the supply chain legislation and put it into the Modern Slavery Bill, but, where there has been criticism in California, you give it a little more clout by saying, “You must report on this in your annual report and say what you are doing.” It is okay for a company to report that it does nothing because it does not think that the provisions apply to it, but I do not think that any company would go down that route.

Let us begin this narrative journey with business. There are so many pluses for a business in doing this because it begins to be able to manage its risk and it begins to understand its supply chain. Whatever companies tell you, most supply chains have got out of control over the past 20 years with rapid globalisation, so as businesses begin to address the issue and look down at supply chains, they will understand not only the vulnerabilities that affect their business but how they can make that more profitable. I am all in favour of UK businesses becoming more profitable, so I see this proposal as an enabler of that, with a by-product being that you are actually helping people who are in enforced labour and servitude, within the remit of business, to get out of that situation.

The honest truth is that the global corporations have the financial clout to deal with this issue; I am afraid that Governments and NGOs do not. All we can do is legislate and enable businesses to race to the top.

Kate Roberts: We sit on the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, which has just produced an alternative Bill that I believe has been circulated among members of the Committee. There is a section in that alternative Bill on transparency in supply chains that would impose a duty on every company operating in the UK whose annual worldwide gross receipts exceed £60 million, and that would include annual disclosures.

Lucy Maule: I think that the TSC model in California is great. I agree with Andrew that it requires a little more clout, but the sense is that there is a global shift and there is a need for legislation. It is crucial for big  businesses to know that their competitors are doing the same. I agree with Andrew that there needs to be a global standard, so I do not personally think the Companies Act goes far enough either. We have seen the evidence from California that the model there is beginning to work, and it is a good model.

Q 66

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

I have an extremely quick follow-up question on that point. I am interested in what you have just said. Linking back to the way that the overseas domestic workers regulations are very micro—they are about one person and an employee—why would you leave small business out of what you have just articulated?

Andrew Wallis: I think it is about the heavy lifting and resourcing. Companies do not want a different threshold level from California, in terms of output—they understand where that threshold is and it gives them comfort in saying, “Okay, it isn’t in one area of legislation; it is here and there”. You want some parity around that. The thinking behind the California Act was that big business would drive it—it had the resources and the smarts to do it. Business will be business and will learn how to monetise this over time.

There is also a shift in big business, which is on the issue of corporate social responsibility—those days are probably over and it is about understanding that the issue is about doing good business. If you want to attract the brightest and the best, it is not enough just to say what you are doing; you have to start to demonstrate what you are doing. This is about not only greater but better profitability for business. It is a bit like what Unilever or Branson and others are currently discussing—plan B. That is the thinking behind it.

This is not about beating up business; it is about enabling business to address an issue that is a fundamental risk to business. No one in the business community wants to be the next Nike and Gap of 15 years ago, because that does horrendous things to your profits and share price and takes years, if not decades, to recover from.

Q 67

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Ceidwadwyr, Norwich North

But it’s okay for small businesses?

Andrew Wallis: No, I think it will work its way down from that over time. If you allow big business to do the heavy lifting, small and medium enterprise businesses, which I know are the vast majority in this country, can learn from that.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Llafur, Bolton North East

I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the witnesses for their evidence.