Cllr Meenal Sachdev is a councillor on Hertsmere Borough Council and the founding director of the Shiva Foundation, a charity working to fight human trafficking and modern slavery.
Modern slavery can be defined as deceiving, coercing, or forcing someone into exploitation for personal or commercial gain. It is a pervasive issue that affects our local communities but also transcends geographical boundaries.
The number of victims of modern slavery in the UK continues to rise each year, with over 16,000 people referred to authorities in 2022. This is the highest number of potential victims claiming exploitation since the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) began in 2009. However, these numbers represent only the tip of the iceberg, with experts estimating the true number of victims across the UK to be as high as 100,000.
Last year, labour exploitation was most reported for adult victims, whereas child victims were most often referred for criminal exploitation. This is largely due to a rapid increase in the identification of ‘county lines’ – drug gangs exploiting vulnerable individuals to transport substances from large cities to small towns. UK nationals have consistently been the most referred nationality to the NRM since 2016, shifting to the second most referred in 2022. These national trends are mirrored across Hertfordshire.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was a landmark piece of legislation that has led to significant improvements in the national and local response to tackling modern slavery, including an increase in the identification of both people affected by modern slavery and perpetrators. However, barriers to justice still persist, and there is a pressing need to address under-reporting as well as improving enforcement.
Bridging the gap: Licensing and modern slavery
Fortunately, the untapped resources of licensing officers and existing frameworks at the local level present an opportunity to integrate modern slavery prevention efforts into everyday practices and routine procedures, providing a promising pathway to confront this issue.
We have already seen excellent and effective work within licensing teams to reduce anti-social behaviour and alcohol-fuelled crime in the night-time economy, and this good practice has started to expand to modern slavery prevention initiatives led by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the Local Government Association.
The Shiva Foundation aims to further enhance and build on these positive strides through our innovative report, ‘Understanding the Potential of Licensing Frameworks and Teams to Tackle Modern Slavery in the UK’. It offers recommendations for strengthening statutory guidance and explores the ways in which licensing authorities and practitioners across England’s 333 local authorities can use their existing tools to enhance local anti-modern slavery provisions within licensed sectors.
Policy recommendations for local and national government
The report provides recommendations for utilising local licensing infrastructure and integrating modern slavery content to increase awareness of the issue and make expectations on local businesses known. Some of these include incorporating modern slavery provisions in licensing policy, raising awareness during consultations, adding related questions to inspection forms, and integrating licensing into their modern slavery statement.
As a member of the licensing committee in Hertsmere, I effectively advocated for the inclusion of a modern slavery section during the consultation period, which received approval from both the committee and subsequently, the full council. We were then able to successfully influence the nine other district councils in Hertfordshire to adopt similar provisions.
In tandem with the recommendations for local government, the report also makes a series of recommendations for national government to spearhead this modern slavery response.
Using the Licensing Act 2003 as a case study, some of the recommendations include the integration of modern slavery provisions into the standard licensing application process and the revision of the Section 182 Guidance, which accompanies the Licensing Act 2003. These revisions would involve adding modern slavery and human trafficking to the list of serious crimes while emphasising that preventing modern slavery is a valid consideration under the ‘prevention of crime and disorder’ licensing objective.
Empowering Licensing Officers
As the interface between policy and practical implementation, the report’s third section provides actionable guidance for licensing officers to effectively combat modern slavery in their daily operations. It emphasises the significance of capacity building, raising awareness among license holders, and fostering collaborative partnerships within law enforcement. These measures will equip practitioners to proactively identify and address instances of modern slavery, deter potential perpetrators, and safeguard the well-being of those vulnerable to exploitation.
While we recognise that licensing authorities and the public sector face various funding and resource constraints, the strength of these recommendations lies in their utilisation of existing channels and tools to engage with businesses and promote compliance.
It would be ideal if both national and local government authorities, along with enforcement teams, would embrace the recommendations provided in this report and fully utilise their powers to combat modern slavery. The implementation of this strategy will not only disrupt this heinous issue that affects countless individuals and bring more traffickers to justice, but also foster safer and more prosperous local communities.
Let us unite in our commitment to addressing modern slavery.