In 2015, the UK passed into law The Modern Slavery Act to provide a legal framework to tackle modern slavery. The Act provides better protection and support for survivors, as well as suitable punishment for perpetrators of this abhorrent crime. By developing this legislation, the UK government is leading the way in tackling the huge problem of modern slavery and trafficking in a more meaningful way.
Earlier this year, I represented the British Asian Trust at a special event at Parliament which focused on how government and civil society organisations can work together more effectively to develop modern slavery legislation. I was delighted to meet many sector representatives and parliamentarians to discuss the role of civil society is in developing and implementing modern slavery legislation. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), are often at the forefront of tackling social issues pushing for the development or reform of legislation to better meet the needs of those it is designed to protect.
Many of these NGOs have been working on the issues around modern slavery for many years, often long before it came on the agenda for governments, and are well place to advise on the need for new or refined legislation. They can provide insight into the needs of those who are most vulnerable to modern slavery, as well as platforms for those who are reluctant or cannot voice their concerns or needs.
NGOs, such as our partners working in the area of anti-trafficking, are well versed on existing laws and can distinguish those that are effective in tackling slavery from those that need reform.
During the development of legislation, NGOs are important in reviewing and auditing the different iterations and providing feedback on potential gaps or changes that are needed. During the development of the 2016 anti-trafficking bill in India, some NGOs were invited to review the draft bill, provide feedback, and say whether they would endorse it or not. The process was a success with NGOs suggesting improvements and approving the draft bill in its final form. This process is certainly an approach aspiring countries could follow.
NGOs can also play a crucial role in helping society understand and use new legislation, by building the capacity of communities to understand it and make it relevant. They can also train and inform key stakeholders such as judges, lawyers, police and other NGOs so that they can use it effectively.
One of our local partner organisations in India, the Aangan Trust, has developed some simple tools and provided support to Child Welfare Committees, the government bodies responsible for managing cases of child trafficking. This support helped the committees to implement the law and ensure the needs of children are being met, a great example of bringing simple solutions to reinforce the implementation of the law on a complex issue.
The development of legislation, particularly on issues as sensitive and complex as modern slavery, can be difficult and take a long time to be adopted by parliaments. Fortunately, there is a great deal to be learned from the development of UK Modern Slavery Act. This is not only in terms of the actual legislation that was produced but the processes and stakeholders that were involved in producing it. There is a need to encourage parliaments to engage with different stakeholders and develop modern slavery legislation in an inclusive, transparent, and representative way.
Kevin Groome, Anti-trafficking Programme Lead, the British Asian Trust