Modern slavery is a transnational problem, which no government can fix alone
The book brings together a range of experiences from parliamentarians around the world who have taken action in their own cities and communities, writes Darren Jones MP. | PA Images
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s groundbreaking e-handbook for legislators is seeking to tackle the scourge of modern slavery. All of us, within Parliament and without, can do more to raise awareness of modern slavery.
The International Labour Organisation puts the number of slaves worldwide at 40 million — 1 in every 200 living people.
Although the problem can feel remote in developed countries like ours, it's estimated that well over a hundred thousand of them are being forced to work here in Britain. Whilst governments are doing more to tackle the issue, it’s a growth industry: our official framework for identifying victims of modern slavery, the National Referral Mechanism, saw more than 10,000 referrals in 2019, up over 50 percent on 2018. And we know, of course, that several times this number continue to go undetected.
The challenges are significant, and the solutions complex, but there is no time to lose in doing what we can.
It’s been five years since the Modern Slavery Act became law in the UK.
We’ve seen some real progress in that time — not least in getting more businesses to take responsibility for rooting out forced labour in their supply chains — and although there’s more we can do domestically, the clearest lesson is this: modern slavery is a transnational problem, which no government acting alone can fix.
Modern slavery is a pervasive evil which touches every part of the wider economy and every aspect of our work.
This recognition underpins the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s groundbreaking e-handbook for legislators seeking to tackle this scourge, the second volume of which has just been released.
Its first volume, which focused tightly on the work of drafting and implementing effective legislation against modern slavery, demonstrated representative democracy at its best, and it was rightly hailed as an invaluable resource for Parliamentarians across and beyond the Commonwealth.
The second instalment broadens this focus, giving every one of us the tools to play our part whether or not we are directly engaged in crafting law on the issue. As it makes clear, modern slavery is a pervasive evil which touches every part of the wider economy and every aspect of our work — and doing more to educate ourselves and those around us is a vital first step in ensuring that its victims are not forgotten.
This means continuous engagement — with the media, civil society, and victims themselves — to ensure that the nature of the problem is accurately and widely understood. The handbook provides instructive examples of how groups of parliamentarians around the world — in Australia, Kenya, Pakistan and Canada — have come together to raise the issue’s profile and urge stronger action.
At Westminster, we should use the select committee system and APPG network better, so that the most relevant voices are amplified, and more broadly look to incorporate the best information and clearest guidance into our campaigns and communications strategies.
Another key message, which I emphasise in my contribution to the book, is about the necessity of engaging the communities closest to home. I write in the handbook about how I engaged trade unions, enforcement bodies, and victim support organisations to better combat the problem in and around my Bristol constituency, and the book brings together a range of experiences from parliamentarians around the world who have taken action in their own cities and communities.
The UK is rightly recognised as a leader in constructively tackling modern slavery, which gives us a real responsibility, as well as a valuable opportunity, to share our experience. All of us, within Parliament and without, can do more to raise awareness, bringing victims into the open and their exploiters to justice.
Darren Jones is the Labour MP for Bristol North West.