Modern slavery 'greatest human rights issue of our time'

16 May 2017

Kevin Hyland, Anti-Slavery Commissioner

Kevin Hyland OBE, the UK's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner

'It is a sad reflection on today’s world that, 180 years after abolition, the post of an anti-slavery commissioner should be needed' - a sobering statement from the UK's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland OBE. 

Speaking at the Federation's conference in Birmingham today, Mr Hyland delivered a highly informative session on the 'hidden crime' that affects 45.8m people today – a number equal to the population of Spain - compared to around 11 million people before it was abolished.

Mr Hyland said many of the victims of modern slavery can be found working in factories, fields, in the fishing industry, and car wash outlets, often housed in squalid conditions. He gave an example of a gang responsible for bringing Polish nationals to work in the UK in demolition, caught with £250,000 in their car.

The commissioner role was established under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 under the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, who described the problem as “the greatest human rights issue of our time”.  As a former head of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-trafficking unit, Mr Hyland said: “There has been a huge growth in the problem. Our approach has changed significantly for the better. It has been a steep learning process but the expertise to deal with vulnerable victims and serious organised crime already exists within policing.”

He said there had been 3,805 allegations of modern slavery recorded by the national referral mechanism but only 117 prosecutions and a tiny number of convictions – 31. Mr Hyland said the attitudes in the past had been to pass the problem on rather than tackle it. He added he had been shocked to find incidents catalogued on spreadsheets and not being tackled.

He used his presentation to Federation representatives to call for improved training for officers through the College of Policing to enable police to detect slavery and recognise the victims, rather than charging them for being complicit in cannabis farms, prostitution or other criminal activity. He also said there needed to be greater commitment by forces to record allegations and investigate incidents, backed with the necessary financial investment.

Speaking afterwards Simon Kempton, lead on the topic for the Federation, noted that the session had been very well attended. He added: “Everyone learned something and can take that back to their force and chief officers.”

More on conference 2017