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New Government, new opportunities

By Luke de Pulford, Director of the Arise Foundation

Let’s be candid about it: the anti-slavery movement tends to lean left. Something about the traditional association of Conservatism with harsh migration policies makes it difficult for people to cast Tory anti-slavery efforts in a positive light.

I don’t think I’m being controversial in guessing that there weren’t many in the anti-slavery movement cheering the Conservative Party landslide. I’ve been at sector events where an air of melancholy descends at the mention of anything Conservative. Grudging reluctance seems the bien pensant approach.

Even those welcoming the clear and obvious advance of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 seemed to caveat their celebrations with an unspoken clause “even though they’re Conservatives….”

It’s time we did away with the general hermeneutic of suspicion. If for no other reason than it prevents us from engaging effectively. That’s not to say we should be uncritical. Not at all. But the wink-wink, nudge-nudge “well…it is the Tories” prejudice has got to stop.

This is an absolutely critical period for the anti-slavery movement in the UK, and very high risk. In policy terms, the anti-slavery agenda was, and to some extent, still is, seen as the property of former PM Theresa May. You could argue with some justification that it’s already dropped down the list of government priorities precisely because May no longer has the top job. Some even argue that the decline began before she left.

The point is this: we need to embed the anti-slavery agenda across the UK Government so that it isn’t susceptible to changes in political leadership or departmental whim. This is our common task. We are still in a deeply precarious place. Survivor support isn’t statutory, neither is the National Referral Mechanism. Compared to other government priorities, international support is minuscule. The movement towards supply chain legislation with teeth could easily lose momentum against a background of Brexit induced aversion to overbearing regulation of businesses. Just four examples.

These things are too important to be waylaid by party allegiances. Instead of wringing our hands about how “taking back control of our borders” is going to exacerbate trafficking, we should be asking ourselves how we can shape that agenda so that “control of our borders” means innovative safeguards against human trafficking, and holistic compassionate care for those caught up in it.

We have a short window to make this work. The Greta effect has already shifted the balance of global priorities away from addressing human slavery. Caring for the environment and caring about slavery are not mutually exclusive. But in the zero-sum world of international agenda-setting, there’s constant tension.

So let’s seize the opportunity.

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