Anti-Slavery Commissioner Visits NI
The recently-appointed Anti-Slavery Commissioner for the UK, Kevin Hyland, has been visiting Northern Ireland this week to gather information on the country’s approach to tackling human trafficking and to meet with the agencies and organisations involved.
This morning we got the opportunity as a member of the Department of Justice’s NGO Engagement Group to meet with the Commissioner and to share with him about some of the work that is happening across NI.
It was also a chance to hear about what his priorities will be as he and his office embark upon a task that has not been done before in the UK.
His role has come about as part of the Modern Slavery Bill and Strategy, which Lord Morrow’s Bill pre-empted and incorporated into NI legislation. Thus, Kevin Hyland will oversee and coordinate with all of the United Kingdom, but because the Modern Slavery Bill has not yet been made law, Northern Ireland is the first country to welcome the Commissioner in an official capacity. Because he must work with several countries at once, each with their own particular set of circumstances, structures and cultural identities, certain parties were concerned Northern Ireland would be easily forgotten. The Commissioner reassured those present this morning that he was aware of the differences and challenges faced by each country and would be visiting each regularly, to build an efficient partnership with key stakeholders in each one.
It was good to hear of the Commissioner’s emphasis on partnership and collaboration between countries and between agencies – he spoke of the need to forge links with isolated communities in the UK and to join sectors.
In essence, the Commissioner sees his role as twofold: first, to improve victim care and partner internationally to share information across jurisdictions in a bid to prevent human trafficking; and secondly, to improve the roles of statutory agencies in addressing human trafficking.
He also spoke about the need to shift the balance from criminals being one step ahead of law enforcement and other agencies to our response being a proactive one – for example, in identifying trends and new manners in which people are being exploited.
The need to redress the balance from victims being afraid to criminals being afraid to operate in the UK and victims feeling safe and free to come forward was also clearly at the fore of the Commissioner’s agenda. Indeed, he highlighted the need to be victim-centred, and for all of our efforts to, in some way, benefit and support victims of human trafficking.
Much like some of the discussions we’ve been having around No More Traffik recently, there is a concern around the official statistics (re: victims of human trafficking in the UK) being so low which the Commissioner does not believe to be representative of reality; and he would indeed welcome a rise in numbers as an indicator of better reporting mechanisms. This reminds us of the role we each have to play in being vigilant in our communities, talking to others about human trafficking and prioritising partnership at all levels to ensure our response is united and strong.
Finally, the Commissioner also spoke of supply chain ethics – he will be visiting source countries and looking at how to implement the part of the Modern Slavery Bill which deals with businesses and corporations being accountable and chain-checking under the law. This is only one level of the effort made to improve supply chains: the Commissioner was strong in highlighting the need for consumers and local law enforcement to be mindful of where products come from and who/what might be involved.
We welcome Kevin Hyland’s appointment and are heartened by his progressive and holistic thinking, and we’ll be keen to continue to develop our relationship with the Commissioner and his office. As always, we are here to be your voice and to shine a light on what traffik-free community groups, partners, and other interested parties are thinking: so get in touch!