Slavery in the Deep South and why our own Government ought to think more carefully about the draft Modern Slavery Bill

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Those were the words used by Major General Gordon Granger on 19 June 1865 when he read General Orders No. 3 to the people of Galveston effectively abolishing slavery in Texas. Following the end of the Civil War the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gave equal protection under the law to all citizens. The Freedmen’s Bureau was established to assist the integration of former slaves into society in the South.

The history of slavery in the South, and the “equal but separate” legislation which stemmed from the emancipation is evident here in Texas and despite the legislation bringing an end to slavery it was not until during the next century that there was true progression towards equality.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend Easter Sunday being welcomed with open arms into a family celebration here in Texas and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has made me feel at home during this weekend. I’ve been fed delicious food all day, I’ve spent the afternoon on a ranch seeing the cattle and riding a (little!) horse bareback and I’ve spent this evening at a family supper (my contribution was making Yorkshire Puddings!) discussing the differences, and similarities, between our cultures in the UK and the close-knit strong family and social community here in northern Texas near the Oklahoma State border.

As part of my tour of this part of Texas I’ve had an opportunity to discuss my project with a number of people working in the education sector as well as people who have lived here in this area for the whole of their lives. One of the things that was a particularly poignant reminder of the history here in Texas was a visit to the local cemetery. The white part of the cemetery was large with well-tended to graves scattered amongst the trees:

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The black part of the cemetery was down a dirt track in a field out of sight of the main road and was much more rustic. It was a clear reminder that it was not until the relatively recent past that the laws changed to allow people to be buried in whichever part that they wished despite the laws abolishing slavery in the 19th century and the prolonged inequality which followed:

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Draft Modern Slavery Bill

The word slavery conjures up strong emotions, not just here in the United States of America. Our own Government back in the UK has drafted a Modern Slavery Bill (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/draft-modern-slavery-bill), a draft Bill which, if enacted, is aimed at exposing this hidden crime, stopping it at source, bringing more perpetrators to justice and protecting and supporting victims.

I can understand why the Home Secretary has written the foreward using striking language in order to draw clear attention to the types of crimes set out in the draft Bill. But therein lies a problem – I think the tone of the foreward sets the whole tone for the rest of the Bill and, whilst I absolutely agree that the types of crimes that are contained within it should be legislated against, using such grand language without a clear definition within the Bill of modern slavery and continued jumbling of trafficking, slavery and exploitation throughout the documents means that this Bill is too focused on the major, headline cases which would probably have reached the news anyway and it risks, by the very nature of the language used and the emphasis it places on these crimes, doing not as much as ought to be done to firstly try to prevent cases of ‘modern slavery’, secondly to promote co-operation between, and training of, agencies involved in this work and thirdly to recognise those cases (which probably form a hidden majority) where the evidential aspects fall short of being able to prove that an individual has committed a crime ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ but the evidence is clear that on the ‘balance of probabilities’ the individual has been exploited, trafficked or subject to other forms of modern slavery or is at risk of any of these occurring.

I worry that this draft Bill is too focused on legislation designed to bring perpetrators to justice and not focused enough on the early identification of potential victims or the support that will be provided for potential (or actual) victims. It also fails to describe with sufficient clarity the definitions of some of the terms used within it including slavery and servitude themselves.

Although I understand why this title has been chosen (it is headline-grabbing, it clearly sets out how appalling this situation is and it makes clear that a tolerant and modern society would not accept such atrocities) but by the very nature of the words used I think it has the potential to mean that more subtle cases and cases where the evidence is weaker and needs more time to be considered and collated may be lost in the system as people will be very focused on the major cases which are likely to attract a lot of media attention, rather than being focused on the other cases which are probably more commonplace. Within the documents themselves there is a lack of consistency of the use of the terms ‘slavery’, ‘trafficking’ and ‘exploitation’. Unless a more consistent approach is standardised at the outset this will create confusion and will lead to cases being missed or not properly investigated. I would favour the terms ‘human trafficking’ and ‘exploitation’ to be included prominently in the title of the Bill alongside ‘slavery’. It would also be beneficial to make explicitly clear that the provisions apply to both adults and children (even though this is clearly the case) as this would be a continual reminder to professionals that people of all ages can suffer from these types of abuse.

 

Draft Committee Bill

The House of Lords and House of Commons Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill have produced a revised “Committee Bill” which is radically different from the original Government Bill that was consulted upon: (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201314/jtselect/jtslavery/166/166bill.pdf).

 

There are a number of aspects of this Committee Bill which I believe are an improvement on the Government’s original draft Bill but there is still further work to be done.

 

TITLE
In my view the title of the Committee Bill still needs changing to include the terms “trafficking” and “exploitation” rather than just “modern slavery”. For the same reasons which applied to the Draft Government Bill I think exclusion of these two words from the title risks cases not being reported as practitioners, from all backgrounds, may not think that the cases they are dealing with meet the definition of “slavery” and may not, therefore, recognise or respond appropriately to the less ‘headline grabbing’ cases.

 

PRE-AMBLE
The pre-amble currently reads as follows:
“Make provision about slavery and human trafficking; to make provision for an Anti-Slavery Commissioner; and for connected purposes”.

I believe this needs to be changed to the following:
“Make provision about slavery, human trafficking and exploitation; to make provision for an Anti-Slavery Commissioner; and for connected purposes related to adults and children”

 

PART 1, Section 7(2)(a)
I would still like to see this section reference not only Section 1(1)(a) of the Protection of Children Act 1978 but also sections 1(1)(b) and 1(1)(c) such that as well as being an offence under the new Act to take, or permit to be taken, indecent photographs, or pseudo-photographs, of a child, it would also be a new offence under this new Act to distribute, show or possess with the intention to distribute or show such photographs. Whilst the person committing an offence under sections 1(1)(b) and 1(1)(c) of the Protection of Children Act 1978 may not know the child involved, I still believe that this is a form of exploitation in its broadest sense and it would be beneficial to include these additional two offences under the umbrella of a revised Draft Bill so that attention is drawn to them and so that their importance is not apparently diminished by non-inclusion.

 

PART 2, Sections 15(2) & 18(4)
These sections as currently written would potentially permit a person subject to a Modern Slavery Prevention Order to work with Vulnerable Adults and I therefore would like to see this section strengthened to include prohibition of work with vulnerable adults. This may need a reference to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 +/- Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006.

 

PART 3, Section 24(1)
The mechanism by which an advocate shall be appointed needs clarification. If an advocate is appointed under the provisions set out in Subsections 5 (a) to (e) of Section 24, there ought to be reference to the need to identify, via the appropriate legal routes set out in the Children Act 1989, an alternative person who does have parental responsibility for the child in question. This reference could take the form of statutory guidance rather than primary legislation but it would be helpful as it is not clear to what extent (if any) it is anticipated that the advocate would have parental responsibility over the child when some of the responsibilities (especially those set out in Section 24(4)(b)) relate specifically to the types of activities normally carried out by someone with Parental Responsibility and in light of the statements made in Section 24(8) and 24 (11)(a).

 

PART 4, Section 33(1)
The current section 33(1)(d) ought to be moved to a new section 33(1)(e) and the current section 33(1)(d) replaced with, “recognition of victims” such that the new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (“the Commissioner”) would be obliged to encourage best practice in the recognition of victims as well as the prevention of modern slavery and the protection of victims.

 

PART 4, Section 33(2)(d)
It is crucial that this section is made mandatory, not optional, so that the Commissioner would be required to provide information, education or training.

 

PART 4, Section 33(2)(g)
This section needs revising to, “involved in the recognition or prevention of modern slavery and protection of victims” so that the Commissioner may engage with and make recommendations to persons and organisations involved in the recognition of victims as well as the prevention of these crimes.

 

The new Draft Committee Bill is definitely an improvement on the Government’s initial draft but it is crucial that any further revisions of either of the Draft Bills, moving forwards, recognise that slavery is an extremely emotive issue, as is clear here in the United States, and it is also crucial that the use of the term slavery does not result in less headline-grabbing cases being missed or still un-recognised. Training and education to recognise potential cases of “modern slavery” must be mandatory and standardised and it is vital that “trafficking” and “exploitation” are more prominently featured in the title of further revisions.

A new law would be a good way to better recognise victims of trafficking, exploitation and slavery but any new law must ensure that both society as a whole as well as the professionals working within it are able to recognise and respond to cases sooner and with more efficiency and effectiveness than may be the case in some areas at the present time.

Tomorrow I’ll be leaving northern Texas and heading to Arizona. I am sure this new location will provide an interesting comparison with the large number of things I’ve seen, experienced and learned this week – things which would not have been possible without the generosity of the professionals I’ve been working with and the kindness and welcome of the family I’ve been staying with over Easter, for which I am hugely grateful.

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