The UK Modern Slavery Act and the UK counter-trafficking response -

‘ground-breaking’ or re-enforcing problematic stereotypes?

Presenter: Inga K Thiemann

Discussant: Owain Johnstone

In March 2015, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 was passed. Hailed as ground-breaking legislation, it aims to improve prosecution, prevention and victim protection for human trafficking and slavery, servitude and forced and compulsory labour. This paper critically assesses the extent to which the Modern Slavery Act is likely to reach these goals. It argues that the criminal law approach of the Act is not only unsuited to provide sufficient assistance to victims of human trafficking and exploitation, but also unable to successfully combat trafficking and modern slavery overall, while perpetuating problematic stereotypes prevalent in counter-trafficking responses.

Furthermore, this paper challenges the classification of different expressions of modern slavery into separate offences, as this creates both parallel structures as well as problematic definitions of slavery and trafficking, particularly for trafficked persons in the sex industry. In addition to doctrinal analysis, this paper builds on the findings of a qualitative study with non-governmental organisations working with trafficked persons, to add a grassroots perspective on the shortcomings of the Modern Slavery Act.

I argue that the Act falls short both in terms of defining and combatting human trafficking and exploitation. It is particularly lacking in the areas of prevention and victim protection, which could be addressed by an alternative approach founded in human rights and labour rights, which I will sketch out briefly following my critique.

Inga K Thiemann is a visiting scholar at Bristol University’s Law School, as well as a teaching fellow at University College London and a guest lecturer at St Mary’s University. She completed her PhD thesis on a feminist labour law response to human trafficking for sexual exploitation at University College London, UK. Her doctoral thesis provides an interdisciplinary feminist critique of current legislation and policy on human trafficking, with a focus on human trafficking into the sex industry. Inga’s research involves doctrinal approaches to international human rights law, European law and domestic law in England & Wales and Germany, an analysis of policy on migration, labour and prostitution, as well as a qualitative study consisting of interviews with non-governmental organisations.

Owain Johnstone is a final year DPhil candidate at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford. His research focuses on the contribution of the policy process to the construction of human trafficking as a social problem in the UK.