Home Office accused of deliberately leaving anti-slavery post vacant | Slavery

The Home Office is accused of deliberately failing to appoint a new anti-slavery commissioner to avoid scrutiny while trying to push through legislation on the issue.

The presence of an independent commissioner has been a legal requirement since the position was created under the Modern Slavery Act in 2015.

Yet this week will mark four months without anyone in the role, despite sources saying the interview process ended two weeks before former incumbent Sara Thornton left.

Thornton, along with other experts, is calling for a replacement as soon as possible. She argues that the risks of exploitation have increased and that planned legislation on modern slavery needs to be reviewed.

The number of potential victims of trafficking identified has reached record levels this year, with 4,171 reports recorded between April and June 2022.

Thornton, who left on April 30 at the end of her three-year term, said it was a “critical time” to have someone in office and urged the Home Secretary to take the appointment.

Thornton, who is now professor of modern slavery policy at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘The Commissioner has a really important contribution to make to the eradication of modern slavery, particularly when the government proposes to new measures to combat this heinous crime. I urge the Home Secretary to appoint a new commissioner as soon as possible.

Factors increasing the likelihood of trafficking and labor exploitation include a labor shortage caused by Brexit, the fallout from the rapid expansion of the seasonal worker scheme, and the cost of living crisis.

The role was announced in December 2021 and final interviews took place on April 14 this year. It was then up to Home Secretary Priti Patel to decide between two candidates and question them if she so wished – but nothing else was heard on the matter.

No commissioner means less scrutiny of the planned Modern Slavery Bill when it passes through parliament.

The Daily Telegraph reported earlier this month that Patel had ‘reported a crackdown’ on abuses of the Modern Slavery Act.

The newspaper reported that Patel planned to legislate to reform the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) used to identify and support victims of trafficking, so that it only reviews cases in the UK; ensure that the thresholds are not too low; limit the number of claims that arise and ensure that the NRM is about “victim recovery rather than an open immigration route”.

Andrew Wallis, chief executive of modern slavery charity Unseen, said it was “hugely telling that we didn’t have a date”.

Wallis said one had to wonder if the delay was motivated by a desire to push legislation through without review: “The question is, why wouldn’t you want a commissioner in place?”

He added: “One has to ask how seriously this role is taken by the government? If it were a children’s commissioner or a victims’ commissioner, would we have such a slow level of response?

“The role is enshrined in parliament and yet it is not in place. We play fast and free with the law now.

The Commissioner’s role is “to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences, as well as in the identification of victims”.

Without a commissioner, however, the office is rendered powerless. According to an article posted on its website in May, the situation means that “staff attending meetings or engaging with stakeholders will have no mandate to provide opinions or to undertake or contribute to new work”.

About half the staff have left as their future remains uncertain.

Jamie Fookes, coordinator of the anti-trafficking watchdog group at Anti-Slavery International, said the “worrying” situation had created “an independent monitoring vacuum at a time when it is badly needed”.

He added: “Intentionally or not, without a commissioner in place, the victims of modern slavery are neglected and consideration of the upcoming modern slavery bill is lacking.”

When Thornton was commissioner, she was critical of the impact of government immigration policies on victims of trafficking. His predecessor, Kevin Hyland, resigned four years after taking office, saying his independence “seemed somewhat discretionary from the Home Office, rather than legally granted”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘The UK has been the world leader in protecting victims of modern slavery, and we will continue to identify and support those who have suffered abuse. intolerable on the part of criminals and traffickers.

“A fair and open recruitment campaign is underway for the new Anti-Slavery Commissioner and it would be inappropriate to comment further while this process is underway.”

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