Anneliese Dodds reflects on the scourge of modern slavery during the Cooperative Party’s month of action
This month has been chosen as a ‘month of action’ against the scourge of ‘modern slavery’ by the Cooperative Party. The Cooperative Party is a sister party to the Labour Party, which promotes mutual and cooperative values in our economy and political system.
It may well feel like modern slavery is something that could never happen in Oxford- but sadly the evidence, including in the pages of this newspaper, suggests otherwise. It has been estimated that there could be around five hundred victims of modern slavery a year, just in the Thames Valley police area. Modern slavery incorporates a range of situations where vulnerable individuals are coerced over a period of time. It ranges from forced work, including domestic servitude, to sexual exploitation and forced engagement in illegal activity including the production and sale of illegal drugs.
Legislation against modern slavery has been in place since 2015. But the evidence suggests that this has failed to sufficiently disrupt the traffickers and gangsters who continue to exploit some very vulnerable people.
First of all, many victims of modern slavery seem somehow to slip out of the view of the authorities. This seems to be caused by delays with identifying people as modern slavery victims, concerns about reprisals from perpetrators and, where victims are migrants, fears of deportation.
A lack of resources devoted to policing and the Border Force also seems to be having an impact. I have been encouraged to see how Thames Valley Police are open to using Modern Slavery legislation to help stop county lines exploitation of young people in the illicit drugs trade. In addition, Operation Rague saw our local police in Oxford using the law to full effect against forced labour, in the process freeing a number of people from horrendous conditions. But police activity against modern slavery is extremely resource intensive- and the thin blue line in Oxford is already stretched to breaking point.
Secondly, it is clear that to stop modern slavery we need to work across the public and private sector. However, some companies have been very slow to assume their responsibilities. Here in Oxford there is now consistent liaison between the City Council and the taxi and hotel trade against modern slavery. However, while all large companies are now required to report on their efforts against modern slavery, very few are doing so. Marks and Spencer should be rightly praised as one of the few companies that seems to be taking the issue seriously. I was pleased to see that Oxford Instruments Limited has also prioritised reporting on modern slavery risks within its supply chain, and how it has dealt with them.
But a huge number of other large companies have simply failed to comply with the law. That needs to change, for us all to feel satisfied that the food we eat, clothes we wear and other products that we buy are slavery-free.