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Anti-slavery sector urges government to make major changes to “dangerous” Nationality and Borders Bill

Thursday, 03 February 2022

The government’s Nationality and Borders Bill risks causing damage to the survivors the government intends to protect, modern slavery experts warn in a new report.

Research undertaken by the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab to investigate the proposals set out in Part 5 (Modern Slavery) of the Bill being debated in the House of Lords has found that, in its current form, will have negative unintended consequences on victims of trafficking and slavery.

The work of the university’s world-renowned Rights Lab will serve as an evidence base to support amendments to Part 5 of the Bill.

The news comes after a letter, signed by more than 100 leaders in the anti-slavery sector, called for Part 5 (Modern Slavery) of the Bill to be completely removed.

The findings are summarised in a report, written in partnership with the Human Trafficking Foundation and with input from Catherine Meredith, of the Anti-Trafficking Team at Doughty Street Chambers, which details the potentially harmful consequences of the Bill, if it were to remain unchanged. 

The report shows evidence that the Bill will:

  • Create extra barriers to the identification of victims
  • Exclude significant numbers of victims, including those who are children and/or British, from receiving protection and support
  • Narrow the support victims will receive
  • Risk damaging prosecutions by preventing victims’ access to protection and support, allowing dangerous criminals to evade justice.

Leaders from the entire anti-slavery sector attest that the Bill will reduce the number of criminal prosecutions for trafficking offences as, they say, there is no incentive for victims trapped in criminal exploitation, and conversely this Bill would make it risky and precarious to come forward.

Lead author Kate Garbers, Rights Lab Research Fellow in Policy Evidence and Survivor Support, said: “The Bill in its current form is woefully at odds with the government’s intention to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking. The Bill poses risks to victim protection, criminal justice, and the UK’s fulfilment of its obligations under international law.    

kate garbers
Our research has found that Part 5 in particular, could have long-term impacts including reduction in: victim protection, ability to break trafficking cycles, and prosecution of perpetrators.
Kate Garbers, Rights Lab Research Fellow in Policy Evidence and Survivor Support

Tamara Barnett, Director of Operations at the Human Trafficking Foundation, said:
“Various clauses in Part 5 on Modern Slavery of the Bill have raised alarm bells in the antislavery sector. A government that has historically taken pride in leading the world in its response to modern slavery, and has recently restated its commitment to fight this heinous crime, therefore should listen when the entire antislavery sector, when chief modern slavery prosecutors and when leading police voice their concern that this Bill, as it is currently drafted, will make it harder for the most vulnerable to come forward and so reduce the rate of prosecutions and empower traffickers.”

Trafficking should be removed from the face of the Bill, which is about immigration, not trafficking at all. The Bill contravenes the UK’s anti-trafficking obligations and will undermine the ability to protect victims and prosecute traffickers.
Catherine Meredith, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers

Ahmed Aydeed, Director of Public Law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said: “There is a dichotomy between the Bill, as it’s currently drafted, and the commitment of successive governments to prioritise combatting modern slavery. The Bill in its current form further enshrines the hostile environment, a policy which has already led to a significant reduction in support and assistance for survivors.    

“The Bill, in particular Part 5, will likely lead to survivors not being identified, provided with inadequate support and will also likely lead to victims being re-trafficked. For example, Clause 58 in Part 5 sets a deadline for potential victims to disclose the full details of their exploitation or face a new statutory obligation that late provision of evidence must damage their credibility. 

It has long been recognised in domestic policy, domestic legal frameworks, by medical practitioners and other experts, that victims may be reluctant to come forward with information. The act of trafficking itself leaves victims extremely vulnerable and often leads to victims being distrustful of authorities. This distrust of authorities is used by the traffickers themselves to control victims and prevent them from reporting their exploitation.
Ahmed Aydeed, Director of Public Law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors

Aydeed continued: “Clause 58 enshrines misconceptions about modern slavery into primary legislation and will punish victims’ inability to readily share full details of the significant trauma they’ve suffered at the hands of their traffickers. It will therefore increase the control traffickers have over victims, and will discourage victims from coming forward and reporting their trafficking to the police.”

The Rights Lab report has led to several follow up briefings being written to assist the Lords and MPs as the Bill continues its passage through the parliamentary process. It has also been used as an evidence base from which amendments have been drafted. In addition, two online virtual briefing sessions with Peers have been held in conjunction with others in the sector.

On the 27th of January, the Bill entered Committee stage in the House of Lords where a detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place. Part 5 is set to be discussed next week (week commencing 7 February 2022).

Kate Garbers added: “Amendments to be voted on at the Report stage will only be where the House of Lords believe there will be support or room for persuasion in the House of Commons. Members of the public can influence their local MP and have a say on this Bill by writing to their MP.”

An example letter can be found at: https://www.humantraffickingfoundation.org/policy

Story credits

More information is available from Kate Garbers, in the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham at Kate.Garbers@nottingham.ac.uk 

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