The Limitations of Necessary Criminalisation: Developing a Comprehensive and Holistic Response to Modern Slavery

Kevin Hyland OBE*

Paper presented at

The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences
Human Trafficking: Issues Beyond Criminalization

17 – 21 April, 2015
Casina Pio IV, Vatican City

Excellencies, Madam Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences for inviting me to speak here today and thank you to Monsignor Sánchez Sorondo and Professor Archer for your vision on this issue.


I have met with some of you before in my previous role as head of London’s Metropolitan Police Human Trafficking Unit, but I am here today in my new role as the United Kingdom’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

I could say it is a privilege to hold this role, but sadly the role should not need to exist in the 21st century, so privilege is not the right term. However, it is an honour to serve, and as the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has said, we should be grateful for ‘the gift of service’.

So for this gift of service I am indeed extremely privileged, as this position allows me to take a leading role in service for others, particularly the vulnerable and marginalised in our society. I intend to do all I can to protect and support the victims and bring to justice those who inflict this abuse of human dignity.

Human Trafficking is Modern Slavery

As Professor Archer’s preface to this Plenary Session makes clear, there are two statements that Pope Francis has consistently repeated from the beginning of his Pontificate, one of which is that ‘Human Trafficking is Modern Slavery’.

I think it is very important that we use this term – modern slavery – and I am pleased that the British Government is, I believe, the first government in the world to formally adopt it, although President Obama has also personally shown great leadership in this regard.

Previously in the United Kingdom many modern slavery crimes have been described as forms of human trafficking. But trafficking as a term implicitly indicates movement, and whilst people are often trafficked to be abused, it is the actual exploitation and loss of freedom that should be of most concern. It is the enslavement of our fellow citizens. I am also struck by how much the term “modern slavery” actually shocks those for whom slavery had long settled in the mind as being categorically a thing of the past.

Modern slavery in the year 2015 manifests itself in various insidious forms, including forced labour, bonded labour, child slavery and early and forced marriage and all forms of trafficking in persons, including, but not limited to, for the purposes of forced prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced begging, forced criminality, the removal of organs and domestic servitude.

It exists in every country across the globe – nowhere is immune.

Make no mistake, slavery is very much alive and well in the 21st century, not just in the developing world, but in our so-called advanced societies, the UK very much included.

To illustrate this, I will provide some examples of shocking exploitation that I encountered on a daily basis during my previous life as a police officer.

The “Romanian Cinderella”, as the media named her, who at the age of four was taken from her mother in Romania, believing her daughter was destined for a better life in the United Kingdom, including a good education.

How wrong she was. For the next three years this small and defenceless child was kept as a servant, forced to cook and clean and never allowed to attend school. Her only possessions were the clothes on her back, and her health deteriorated dramatically.

The vulnerable British man, offered a good job at a farm, only to then be coerced into forced labour, working all hours of the week for no pay, being regularly beaten and living in a rat-infested shed.

The Tanzanian woman hired on a legitimate visa, only for her wealthy sponsor to take away her passport upon arrival in the UK and keep her locked in a house, forced to carry out household chores.

And the 57-year-old Romanian man, who expected to be given work as an electrician. Instead he was forced to commit crimes for the criminals that controlled him, kept in a shed and rarely fed. On one occasion when he asked for food he was instead assaulted and raped.

In all these cases the perpetrators were brought to justice and the victims are on the road to recovery. It was not easy, but it is possible.

Recent analysis conducted by the United Kingdom Home Office estimates conservatively that there are between ten and thirteen thousand potential victims trapped in slavery across the United Kingdom.

We know that some exploiters are opportunistic individuals, but much of this crime is organised, particularly when it crosses national borders, though the degree of the ‘organisation’ of the criminal networks varies greatly.

It does not exist in a vacuum: many of the groups behind modern slavery crime will also be carrying out other serious crimes.

A balanced and coordinated response

This Plenary Session is of course focused on issues beyond criminalisation. And I want to talk today about that. For me the key is balance and harmonisation.

In my new role I will be focused on ensuring that all efforts in the UK strike such a balance, between unrelenting pursuit and prosecution of traffickers and slave masters, in tandem with a much greater focus to support and restore the dignity of the victims, including long-term reintegration.

Once there are laws and criminalisation, many are often less focused on what must happen next, not understanding that it is only the very first step. Following the development of legal frameworks there needs to be an understanding and a common agreement and my role is very much about developing that understanding, but also moulding a response that works in practice, not just in the statute books or in the clinical space of a court room or indeed a lecture theatre.

As the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner I have been afforded a great responsibility and duty. I have been appointed to spearhead the UK’s response to modern slavery and call to account those who fail to deliver. My independence will be unwavering, whether that be toward law enforcement, government, the private sector or indeed any organisation.

I was appointed by the Home Secretary and will of course work closely with all relevant Government departments and agencies, many of which by law have a duty to co-operate with me in any way that I consider necessary for the fulfilment of my duties.

My key initial aims as Commissioner are to increase the numbers of victims of modern slavery that are identified and referred for appropriate rehabilitative support and in tandem to increase the numbers of prosecutions and convictions for the traffickers and slave masters.

A major focus will also be to dramatically improve efforts to prevent these crimes from ever occurring in the first place – in the UK, but also crucially in source countries. The Act makes clear that international collaboration is central to my role.

I will be developing partnerships with countries from where significant numbers of victims are trafficked from to the UK, as well as countries that more generally suffer disproportionately from high levels of modern slavery and where the UK has appropriate assets.

I will report annually to the British Parliament across my entire remit and will make recommendations that I will expect to be acted upon.

Another priority will be to ensure that all the work I have described so far is underpinned by hard research and evidence. This has unfortunately been distinctly lacking in this field to date.

So I am delighted to be working with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in partnership with St Mary's University, which is developing the Bakhita Institute, a pioneering academic centre to conduct applied research. The Vice Chancellor has agreed that as many as ten per cent of staff positions – and the university currently employs 1,200 people – will be allocated for survivors of modern slavery.

Many people have been talking to me recently about the need to collect and crunch much more data and intelligence on this crime, from a wide variety of sources. And I do often agree with them.

However, in my view the key problem at the moment in the UK, and I believe this is also the case in many other countries, is that in too many cases the best source for investigating the crime – the victims themselves – are not being properly supported or indeed given appropriate interviews, which is of course crucial in gleaning a wealth of information.

In order to ensure that we do have strong intelligence we need to make sure these crimes are both properly reported and then investigated.

Slavery in 2015

The slavery we see today exists for the same purpose as it has throughout history: to maximise profit for exploiters by minimising or eliminating the cost of labour.

The International Labour Organization estimates that the total illegal profits obtained from modern slavery crime worldwide amount to over 150 billion US dollars per year.

Indeed, the two primary factors driving increases in this crime are high profits and low risk. A big part of my role is to focus on that risk factor. We know that criminals are risk adverse. Globally, it has certainly been a low risk crime.

The United Nations reports that between 2010 and 2012, almost half the countries around the world reported less than 10 convictions per year.

So it is crucial that we improve our national, regional and international collaborative efforts to pursue the criminals. At the moment it is far too easy to get away with this crime, which only encourages it as a criminal activity.

And crucially, if traffickers and slave masters are not properly pursued and brought to justice, they will of course continue to exploit countless other vulnerable people.

International cooperation

To achieve this, improved international cooperation is absolutely vital. One of my priorities as Commissioner is to push for a significant increase in bilateral and multi-lateral Joint Investigation Team operations. I had the opportunity to lead on many of these operations in my previous role. They are crucial when dealing with organised groups that operate across national borders.

As an example, several years ago in my previous role my police unit was able to break up a criminal gang involved in sham marriages and the trafficking of over 100 vulnerable women, mainly from Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, to the United Kingdom for forced commercial sexual exploitation.

Twelve arrests were made in the UK and abroad, assets seized and nine convictions and three cautions eventually secured.

Numerous women were rescued from slavery. And the activities of a ruthless gang – who would almost certainly have gone on to exploit countless others – were stopped.

Caritas, the Mercy Sisters and several police forces were involved in this operation.

Joint Investigation Teams are approved and funded by the European Union’s judicial agency, Eurojust, in explicit recognition of the new transnational criminal landscape that has emerged across Europe in recent years. This landscape is increasingly characterised by highly mobile and flexible groups operating in different EU States and criminal sectors.

Criminal networks and their activities are becoming increasingly international. Criminals can now book flights in minutes and through exploiting EU freedom of movement rules, the expansion of the EU and of course the proliferation of cheap airlines, the whole of Europe is now their playground.

This trend of course calls for strengthened cross-border cooperation and for more joint operations involving police, customs, border officials and judicial authorities in different EU States.

I met just last month with the President of Eurojust and she would very much welcome greater use of Joint Investigation Teams.

We should also think creatively about how to widen the type of collaboration that is possible in Europe to the rest of the world. Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties in particular need to be fit for purpose and work at a speed that responds to the risk to life.

A modern response

Tackling the criminals behind modern slavery requires a modern response that makes use of modern tools and techniques.

Just as traffickers use technology and the internet to recruit and advertise their victims, I will be pushing to make certain that in the UK we utilise technology to tackle them.

I am working with colleagues in the United States to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of partnership working that is coming out of President Obama’s Big Data Initiative.

This will enable us to pilot cutting edge tools and software allowing law enforcement to uncover a wealth of information that might otherwise be difficult or time-intensive to obtain.

Crime groups can then be easily identified and cross-referenced with law enforcement databases, helping police officers map connections between modern slavery and other illegal activity.

I have agreement to pilot this in the UK for sex trafficking and also for forced labour exploitation, and I am very pleased that the UK Gangmasters Licensing Authority have agreed to be the first labour inspectorate in the world to pilot this new software for combating serious labour exploitation.

Forced labour is now very nearly as prevalent in the UK as trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Yet in many parts of Europe and globally there is nowhere near the same focus on this form of exploitation relative to trafficking for sexual exploitation. I am clear that this needs to change.

The Modern Slavery Act

I cannot talk about criminalization without mentioning the UK’s new Modern Slavery Act, which received Royal Assent last month.

This Act is an indication of the British Government’s ambition to take a global lead in the fight against slavery and trafficking, as we did in the days of William Wilberforce. A key focus for me is to ensure that the Government effectively implements all aspects of the Act, so that in the future we can be proud to look back on it as a truly landmark piece of legislation.

Previously in the UK slavery and human trafficking offences were contained in a number of different Acts. The Government has therefore decided to consolidate and simplify existing offences into a single Act to make it easier for law enforcement and prosecutors to understand and apply.

The Act includes two substantive modern slavery offences: one for slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; and one for human trafficking. The human trafficking offence reflects the international definition of human trafficking set out in the Palermo Protocol, but goes further with a raft of new measures.

And it will ensure that perpetrators receive suitably severe punishments for these appalling crimes by increasing the maximum sentence to life imprisonment.

But we know that in most cases of this crime the criminals are motivated by profit, and an even greater disincentive is to hit them where it hurts: financially.

The British Government is determined to become much more effective at attacking the illicit profits of traffickers and slave masters through greater use of asset recovery and financial investigation tools.

The Act will therefore make both of the modern slavery offences what are described as “criminal lifestyle offences”, which will make perpetrators subject to the most robust confiscation regime available under the UK’s Proceeds of Crime Act. This permits the court to treat all the assets that the defendant has, or has acquired, over the last six years, as the proceeds of crime. Over 2 million pounds has been recovered from traffickers in the UK in the past four years, but this figure needs to rise dramatically.

I am pleased that the British Government is clear that the first priority for assets recovered is for them to go to the victims by creating new reparation orders to ensure that money from convicted slave masters and traffickers goes directly to their victims.

The Act also introduces new Slavery and Trafficking Prevention and Risk Orders to give law enforcement and the courts powers to prevent the harm caused by modern slavery offences. These orders are designed so that law enforcement bodies and the courts can respond flexibly to the risks posed by an individual of committing future modern slavery offences.

These are some of the key clauses focused on the criminals.

Initially there was some fear that the legislation would focus too heavily on criminalization, without addressing the needs of victims.

But, in no small part due to the rigorous pre-legislative scrutiny process, which included an evidence review chaired by a distinguished Member of Parliament (and which in fact took evidence from the first Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy in late 2013), followed by an unprecedented Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament, I am pleased to say that the final version of the Act is much closer to the harmonized response to this issue that I spoke of.

Together the evidence review and the Joint Committee took evidence from hundreds of witnesses, including non-governmental organisations, shelters, faith groups, academics, police, prosecutors, international partners and other officials.

Measures to enhance support for victims run throughout the Act.

Morally, this is of course absolutely necessary. And evidence from across the globe makes clear that without effective support for victims it is very difficult to increase the numbers of prosecutions, as victims must be made to feel safe and confident enough to come forward and give their accounts.

Special measures will be extended to all victims of modern slavery to ensure that they have the necessary protections whilst acting as witnesses in court, such as screening witnesses from the accused, and allowing for evidence to be given in private.

A new statutory defence for victims of modern slavery will mean that victims who have been compelled to commit an offence as a direct consequence of their slavery situation can be confident that they will not be treated as a criminal by the UK justice system.

There have been too many instances where victims have been wrongly prosecuted, and have in effect therefore been twice victimised: first by the criminal and then by the state.

The Government is also trialling specialist, independent advocates to support child victims of trafficking.

And crucially there is also an enabling power to place the UK’s framework for identifying victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support, the National Referral Mechanism, on a statutory footing, following much needed reform of the process.

This will be important in ensuring greater consistency in its operation, decision-making and provision of support services.


Long-term reintegration

I will be focusing on ensuring that the reformed process provides support that is much better at restoring the dignity of victims and that focuses on their long-term healing and reintegration into society.

In few other crimes are human beings used as commodities over and over again for the gain of others.

Victims endure experiences that are horrifying in their inhumanity, including violence, rape, hunger and abuse. And these are individuals who have often experienced other forms of abuse, exploitation, poverty or poor health prior to being enslaved. Their vulnerabilities are multiplied many times over by their experiences at the hands of traffickers and slave masters. Stripped of their freedom and often exploited for profit, the damage inflicted on victims is incalculable.

A serious issue raised by a wide range of individuals from the voluntary sector and indeed the police is the lack of continued support and reintegration assistance in the UK.

So I am committed to ensuring support in the UK is better focused on ensuring victims receive the support they need in order to rebuild their lives and increase their resilience.

This support should include access to training and education, as well as emotional and psychological support and therapeutic care.

Vocational training is an important element to include in reintegration plans as a means of ensuring the sustainable social integration of victims by increasing their future employment prospects, confidence and life skills. This can lead to independent financial support, a sense of control over reintegration, a sense of worth and capacity, which can assist mental rehabilitation, a contribution to the community, which can offset any alienation or stigma, and an inherent protection from vulnerability to industries or work susceptible to revictimisation.

Helping victims to become more self-sufficient is also crucial in reducing the need for them to leave their communities to find work abroad and run the risk of being retrafficked.

Project Bakhita

It was with this in mind that I have been partnering with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales over recent years. We did not want to wait for legislation to develop a response.

The work of the Bishops’ Conference is, I would suggest, an outstanding model. The Bishops’ Conference, under the wise stewardship of Cardinal Nichols and Bishop Patrick Lynch, has listened carefully to the need for a holistic response to the evil of modern slavery.

When I first met with Bishop Patrick Lynch of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, I recall him saying that he wanted more than just another leaflet in the back of the Church. He wanted to see a real tangible response. That was a clear message of intent to deliver.

Bishop Pat identified the need for a strategy and consolidation in the Church. He then spoke to his fellow bishops and at their annual plenary and they unanimously agreed that the feast day of St Josephine Bakhita would be dedicated as a day of prayer in England and Wales, and we now know this is a day dedicated globally by the Catholic Church, in no small part thanks to Sister Eugenia Bonetti.

As the migration lead Bishop Pat asked his team to develop a comprehensive plan for the Church, looking at prevention, support, reintegration and bringing perpetrators to justice.

This now has now developed into Project Bakhita, a key element of which is a new centre in London that will provide holistic support to victims, where they will receive the support needed outside of any government provisions or limitations. This is linked to education, employment opportunities and all the elements to deliver sustained recovery.

The key ingredient is of course the love and compassion that survivors are shown to allow them to reconnect as human beings.

The centre does not work in isolation. It also aims to achieve the balanced response, again including a focus on pursuing the criminals. The police are therefore an integrated partner, focused on the concept of the so-called ‘golden hour’, during which the support workers will, as quickly as possible, share key information which they have gathered from the victims in a safe, secure and non-threatening environment. The police will then use this information to pursue the criminals and stop them from exploiting others.

And host families from local communities and parishes will provide a home, at the right time, for victims who may need the care and comfort of a family setting.

The Santa Marta Group

As this illustrates, combating modern slavery of course requires the expertise, resources and efforts of many different individuals and entities.

Central to this must be close working between those that pursue the criminals and those that support the victims.

As the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, a key priority will be to encourage close partnership working between statutory agencies, including law enforcement, and non-government organisations.

I firmly believe that faith groups and NGOs are a crucial partner in the fight against modern slavery.

We know that in cases where victims are controlled by their traffickers, often the only place they are allowed to go without close scrutiny is the local church or place of worship.

Foreign national victims are often very wary of the authorities in the UK and find it difficult to trust them for fear of what might happen to them, as told to them by the traffickers.

So when I headed up the London Metropolitan Police team I put a great deal of effort into forging unique victim-centred partnerships with faith groups, including the Catholic Church in particular.

This allowed us to work closely with people of faith who victims would be much more likely to trust, and who in many cases had the right skills in terms of providing appropriate immediate care and support.

Working with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, we were able to take this best practice model to the very highest levels, and in April 2014 launched the Santa Marta Group here at the Pontifical Academy.

This is a very unusual group, bringing together bishops and police leaders from across the world – over 30 countries to date – working together with civil society to eradicate modern slavery, in a process endorsed by Pope Francis.

The first conference resulted in a signed ‘Declaration of Commitment’ by all the Chiefs of Police present to work together on the international stage to develop effective partnership strategies.

The objective of the Group is to combine the resources of the Catholic Church with those of law enforcement agencies to prevent modern slavery, provide pastoral care to victims and support them with long-term re-integration.

A number of practical projects are now developing under the Santa Marta umbrella, which bring together source, transit and destination countries, including a piece of work looking at the exploitation of vulnerable men in the fishing industry in the North Atlantic ocean. We are talking to Cardinal Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, to ensure work between source and destination countries is effective and coordinated.

Working with Missio, the Church’s charity for overseas mission, we are also currently developing a pilot project in Edo State in Nigeria that aims to bring a host of partners together on the ground to prevent the trafficking of huge numbers of young women and girls into sexual exploitation in Western Europe that is currently taking place.

All projects developed through the Santa Marta Group will be focused around partnership working – between source, transit and destination countries, local and regional partners, police, UN bodies, and of course local faith and civil society groups. The Bishops’ Conference is now also in contact with the Holy See’s Nuncio to the United Nations, H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, about promoting this model at the UN.

I often hear “But how can we in our country do this? We do not have the same relationships, we have corruption and mistrust”. I understand these issues, but let’s find the leaders, let’s see who is up to the mark to develop the trust between the Church and other agencies.

Pope Francis himself has never been shy to show such leadership.

If it had been suggested to me five years ago that all this was possible I am not sure I would have believed it, so I will take this opportunity to thank Cardinal Vincent, Bishop Patrick and their team, especially Mrs Cecilia Taylor-Camara and Dr David Ryall, for their leadership, openness and spirit of compassion.

Supply chain transparency

Modern slavery is taking place in businesses and supply chains of companies located in the UK and across the developed world and also of course in the international supply chains of multinational companies.

It is vital that we focus on the slavery that we in the UK and in other developed countries might be unwittingly creating demand for.

The UK is therefore introducing a legal duty on all businesses above a certain turnover threshold to disclose each year the steps they have taken to ensure that modern slavery does not take place in their business or supply chains anywhere in the world.

The UK is the first country in the world to introduce such legislation, though it has been modelled on state legislation introduced in California, where the evidence suggests it is beginning to positively change corporate behaviour.

Here the media is key, as demonstrated last year by a Guardian newspaper investigation into vulnerable Burmese men being used as slaves in the fishing industry in Thailand.

The fish were used as fishmeal, which was then fed to prawns that were believed to be being sold to supermarkets in the UK, other parts of Europe and the United States. This one investigation changed the public debate on supply chain transparency, though much more needs to be done for the attitudes of everyday consumers to change.


The post-2015 development agenda

Finally, I want to talk about long-term solutions to this crime against humanity, as Pope Francis has described it.

The resurgence of slavery is one of the biggest tragedies and indeed consequences of our modern globalised world. Slavery has of course existed for thousands of years, but economic and social forces have enabled its alarming resurgence in the past few decades.

There are tens of millions of people currently trapped in different forms of slavery across the world, deprived of their human rights, freedoms and dignity.

Development and slavery have always been closely linked.

Modern slavery of course has a devastating impact on individual victims, who often suffer physical and emotional abuse, rape, threats against themselves and their families, and even murder.

But modern slavery also has wider negative implications for human development, as it undermines the health, safety and security of every nation that it touches.

Modern slavery results in a huge loss of remittances to developing countries, because remittance flows are taken from victims, who are forced to pay off debts, and become profits for the criminals.

And then there is the impact on the families and communities left behind. Victims of modern slavery cannot care for their children or the elderly. Many are young, so modern slavery also robs communities of those that could economically contribute the most to local development.

Unfortunately up until now modern slavery and development have been treated as separate policy areas. What has been crucially lacking is a policy approach that places the fight against modern slavery as part of a strategy to promote sustainable and long-term development.

There is at present no specific mention of slavery within the draft post-2015 UN development agenda. Slavery can only be tackled if it is globally recognised not as a thing of the past but as a shameful feature of our modern world.

The new Sustainable Development Goals are likely to be agreed at a United Nations Heads of State summit in September 2015, which will be opened by Pope Francis. In the period of time between now and then there is likely to be a small window of opportunity to sharpen the draft language of the SDGs, and particularly the Targets.

I must here acknowledge that the current draft Sustainable Development Goals are a powerful set of objectives, which has resulted from a democratic and broad-reaching consultative process.

And whilst I particularly welcome targets under draft Goal 5, which focus on the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, including “trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation”, it is crucial that the eradication of all forms of modern slavery is specifically referenced in the SDGs and that this goal or target of eradication is applicable to ending the enslavement and trafficking of all victims, whether women, men or children.

This is vital in order to ensure that holistic responses are fundamentally built in to national and international frameworks and aid budgets.

I am delighted that Professor Jeffrey Sachs will be speaking tomorrow on the role of the SDGs in addressing modern slavery. There is no one on earth who could better advise us.

I will be working in particular to push for drafting improvements that will ensure significantly greater focus is placed on eradicating all forms of modern slavery, including greater focus on child slavery, transparency in supply chains and reducing vulnerability to both human trafficking and also dangerous forced migration.


To finish, I will of course quote the great British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce, when he spoke of his vision in the face of adversity to criminalise this cruel trade in human life in the 1800s.

He said: “Great indeed are our opportunities; great also is our responsibility”.

With the prospect of utilising the SDGs to ensure sustained solutions, the development of new partnership models across the globe, improved legislation, and of course the leadership of Pope Francis, we again have a real opportunity to fight back against this cruel trade in human life.

As a result our responsibilities have never been greater.

Thank you.

[*] UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.


Human Trafficking: Issues Beyond Criminalization

Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences Plenary Session 17-21 April 2015 – There are two... Read more