“They had for the present no object immediately before them, but that by putting stop directly to the carrying of men in British ships to be sold as slaves,” were the words of evangelical christian MP William Wilberforce after his Slave Trade Act won an overwhelming Commons majority in Febuary 1807. It wasn’t until 26 years later that slavery was fully abolished.
Slavery was thought to be long gone in the UK until the beginning of 2013 when the Centre for Social Justice published a report citing that a modern day equivalent of slavery has emerged in the trafficking of people. This came about in part due to an indecent in 2004 when 23 Chinese workers were drowned in Morcambe Bay as the exploitation of cheap labour, but the new human trafficking proposals did not catch the public or the media’s attention until later that year when the Sunday Times Magazine ran the Secrect Slaves series that turned the spotlight modern day version of the slave trade. The magazine highlight some cases of exploitation of people who have been trafficked to the UK such as the exportation of Vietnamese people that have been trafficked to the country to work in the beauty industry.
As a result, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, congratulated the Sunday Times for it’s ground breaking journalism and soon after the UK Government has introduced a Modern Slavery Act. The new legislation comprises of sexual exploitation, child trafficking, trafficking for forced labour (including child labour), forced criminal activity, forced benefit fraud, child forced in drug cultivation and removal of organs.
As the legislation only covers mainly England and Wales, in Scotland there was a private member’s bill that was brought to Holyrood by Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Jenny Marra, to cover human trafficking based on the three principles of a Human Trafficking strategy in Scotland; criminalising human trafficking and support for victims of human trafficking. Jenny Marra became interested in human trafficking because there was little awareness of the issue across Scotland.
She said: “As well as putting stronger laws in place, this will help to raise public awareness of human trafficking. This is important because only when more people in our communities and public services are aware that people are trafficked into Scotland and harboured in our communities will we be able to identify more trafficking victims, get them the help they need, and bring the traffickers to justice.”
At the time the Scottish Government did not have any programme in place for human trafficking, but recognised that there were issues to be solved, saying: “Human trafficking is a heinous crime and clearly and international and cross-border partnership approach is the most effective way to tackle it.
“We are giving careful consideration to the UK government’s proposed Modern Slavery Bill and are working with them to explore the potential for the Modern Slavery Bill to cover Scottish interest.”
Jenny Marra’s consultation on a Human Trafficking (Scotland) Bill was adopted by the Scottish Government in March 2014 and prosecutors from across the UK have convened at Holyrood to discuss an effective way of tackling human trafficking after new statistics were released from the National Crime Agency showing that there has been a 22 per cent increase in the number of people trafficking in 2013. The Scottish Government program ground to a halt during the Scottish Referendum, but last month the Scottish Government published the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill as part of its legislative program under new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
The Bill will keep to the three principles of Jenny Marra’s original Bill and creates a new single offence of trafficking for all forms of exploitation for both adults and children that will lead to life in prison. Michael Matheson, the new Scottish Justice Secretary, said in the Scottish Parliament: “Human trafficking is very much a hidden crime which often goes on behind closed doors. While last year the National Crime Agency recorded 55 potential victims from Scotland, we know this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
“Victims can face horrendous suffering and there is no place for it in modern society. There is no doubt in my mind that introducing this new legislation is the right thing to do. While the focus of this Bill is very much on the needs of victims, under these proposals those who seek to peddle human misery will also face the toughest possible penalties. “
Jenny Marra responded to the introduction of the Bill by saying: “Life sentences for traffickers and the Lord Advocate’s own personal duty to protect victims are all very welcome announcements today. Some of my initial proposals are in guidelines which do not have as much effect, but this is a good platform and I look forward to scrutinising the bill as it passes through parliament.”
In addition, prosecutors currently use the Processed of Crime legislation that seize the assets of criminals. Whether this legislation will be used to those involved in trafficking is still to be seen.
The Bill is now on its way through the Scottish Parliament expected to be made law by the summer of 2015. But with there being a single human trafficking legislation on each side of the border, will Jenny Marra’s original idea of a Human Trafficking Bill be seen in the same light as Wilberforce legislation in 1807? Only history will tell.