Police in the UK are failing some of the country’s 13,000 victims of modern slavery due to poor reporting of the crime, Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner has warned.
Out of 3,146 allegations of modern slavery received by forces across England and Wales last year, only 884 were recorded as crimes, Kevin Hyland said in his first annual report. When referrals are not recorded as crimes, victims do not receive the support and justice they deserve, he said.
Hyland suggested that “chronic weaknesses” in modern slavery crime reporting not only put victims at risk, but could also threaten the country’s national security by allowing the criminal groups that are often behind the offence to act with impunity.
He said there are currently “too many gaps in the system for victims to fall through”, and that law enforcement agencies must treat modern slavery as a “serious and often organised crime”.
“We owe it to victims of modern slavery to continue to improve the law enforcement and criminal justice response domestically and internationally,” Hyland writes in a foreword for the report.
“High financial profits and a historically low risk of successful prosecutions make modern slavery an attractive enterprise for criminals… I am disappointed… that many instances of substandard modern slavery crime recording remain.”
The report comes just weeks after Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the UK security services will form part of a new task force charged with eradicating modern slavery in Britain.
During an appearance before the UN General Assembly in New York last month, May announced that MI5 will work with police forces across the country to gather evidence against the organised criminals behind modern slavery offences, and that GCHQ and MI6 will be given additional resources to help combat the crime internationally.
“The UK is leading the world with our efforts to stamp out modern slavery,” she said. “Just over a year since the Modern Slavery Act came into force, convictions are up, more victims are getting support and there are more police investigations into this abhorrent crime.”
Victims of modern slavery in the UK include women trafficked into prostitution, underpaid workers at car washes and nail bars, and imprisoned domestic servants who are often stripped of their travel and identification papers. According to figures from the Global Slavery Index, an estimated 29.8 million people are affected by modern slavery worldwide.
Britain has been at the forefront of the fight against modern slavery, passing the Modern Slavery Act last year. The act introduced tougher sentencing rules and penalties for those convicted of modern slavery offences, and compelled business to report on incidents of slavery in their supply chains.