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The UK Is a 'World Leader' in Fighting Slavery — But There's Still More Work to Do

A new report into how the UK is combatting modern slavery is a “check-up,” showing that there’s still more to be done.

Britain is already a “world leader” in the fight against slavery and human trafficking, thanks to significant progress made over the past 3 years. 

Now, the  report by public spending watching, the National Audit Office (NAO), has shown how the UK can move forward in 2018. 

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It’s estimated there are around 10,000 to 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK alone, many of whom are embroiled in labour or sexual exploitation, or domestic servitude, according to the report. 

The British government announced its strategy to combat slavery three yeas ago, and introduced the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. The legislation was designed to fight slavery, servitude, forced labour, and human trafficking, as well as protecting the trade’s victims. 

The report showed referrals of potential victims to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) have increased significantly between 2014 and 2016 — showing more potential victims are being identified. 

Read more: This British Human Trafficking Survivor Was Forced to Have Sex 25 Times a Night — But Now Fights Modern Slavery

New legislation has also been introduced requiring businesses to report what they’re doing to prevent human trafficking in their supply chains. 

But the NAO’s report shows that, while some important foundations have been laid, a more significant grasp of the problem is required to overcome it. 

It showed that the Home Office had a limited means of tracking the progress of the strategy, and an “incomplete picture” of the crime, its victims, and its perpetrators. 

The report also found that it is taking the National Crime Agency and Home Office longer than they expect to decide whether people referred to the NRM are, in fact, victims of modern slavery, which is causing “further distress and anxiety to vulnerable people.” 

Read more: The UK Government Has Pledged £20M to Say 'Enough Is Enough' to Modern Slavery

Meanwhile, safe houses for victims need standards for care quality — as currently there are no minimum care standards — as well as regular inspections, the report said. And, with 80 prosecutions under the Modern Slavery Act in 2016, the report warned that rates remained low.

“However,” the report points out, “as modern slavery cases take a long time to build, it is likely to be at least one year until the increased focus of law enforcement organisations is reflected in a higher number of prosecutions.” 

“I don’t see this as a failing report card, I see it as a check-up,” said Kevin Bales, co-founder of Free the Slaves, who described the UK as “ahead of the game” in comparison to “virtually everyone else.” 

“The difficulty for the government is not estimated the numbers but determining how you measure progress,” he said. “It needs a joined-up methodology, with built in evaluation and monitoring.” 

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Meanwhile Kevin Hyland, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, described the UK as a “world leader” in the fight against modern slavery, thanks to significant progress. 

“The Home Office has begun to address a number of the issues raised, including plans to significantly improve support for victims by reforming the NRM,” he said . “I look forward to the government intensifying action following the findings and recommendations of this report.” 

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said that the strategy had so far helped to establish the scale and international nature of the issue of modern slavery. 

“The campaign to drive out modern slavery is in the early stages,” said Morse, in the report. But he added the “government will need to build much stronger information and understanding of perpetrators and victims than it has now,” if the problem of modern slavery is to be defeated once and for all. 

Read more: Scotland Is a Hotbed of Modern Slavery, Campaign Reveals

Human rights groups warned that, without being able to offer guarantees, it can be “frustrating” trying to gain the trust of victims. 

“If you are trying to gain the confidence of a victim you need to tell them what they can expect from the system, not that they might get support and might not,” said Kate Roberts, of the Human Trafficking Foundation, in the Guardian . “It’s very difficult for advocates to get the victims’ trust.” 

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