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Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Annual Report for the period 1 August 2015 to 30 September 2016

With the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act and the passing of legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland to tackle human trafficking and exploitation, the United Kingdom has made a clear commitment to be a global leader in the fight against modern slavery.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s creation of a new task force cements this resolve, with senior leadership directed to prioritise combating what she rightly views as “the greatest human rights issue of our time”. I applaud this development, and look forward to further work with partners - both domestic and international - to ensure that the highest standards of victim identification and care, law enforcement action and, crucially, prevention, are delivered.

This report outlines achievements delivered under each of the priority areas identified in my Strategic Plan 2015-17, which I am now half way through. Although significant progress has been made in the fight against modern slavery, with more victims identified and more criminals convicted, there is still much to be done to ensure best practice across all agencies.

For the UK to achieve its ambition of being the global leader in combating modern slavery, I am focused on pushing the delivery of a first class response across the UK and ending the exploitation that takes place on our streets and in our farms, factories and private homes. We must have support systems which focus on victims’ needs, law enforcement that treats modern slavery as serious and often organised crime, partnerships that impact the whole country and businesses that measure their success by the ethical treatment of their workers.

My first priority is victim identification and care. In 2015 (3,266), 40% more potential victims were referred for support to the UK Government funded National Referral Mechanism (NRM) than in 2014 (2,340)1. Yet these men, women and children are just the tip of the iceberg. I want to see more victims being identified, referred for appropriate support and restored of their freedom.At the moment there are too many gaps in the system for victims to fall through. Many frontline organisations work tirelessly to support victims, but it is unacceptable that nothing is known about victims’ futures once they leave support accommodation; whether they are successfully reintegrated into society and gain control of their lives; or whether many are failed because support ceases so abruptly. It is time to review this support system and to ensure that victims receive support tailored to their individual and complex needs.

We owe it to victims of modern slavery to continue to improve the law enforcement and criminal justice response domestically and internationally. High financial profits and a historically low risk of successful prosecutions make modern slavery an attractive enterprise for criminals. The number of modern slavery prosecutions and convictions in the UK are on the rise. In 2015, 117 offenders were prosecuted for modern slavery offences in the UK, 19% higher than the 98 prosecuted in 2014.While this is encouraging, the total number of individuals being brought to justice is still relatively low given the estimated scale of offending. Disruption of criminal networks must therefore be a key priority.