In his Oscars acceptance speech Steve McQueen declared he was dedicating the award for his film 12 Years A Slave to 'all the people who have endured slavery. And to the millions of people who still suffer slavery today'. His words will no doubt cause shock and surprise; to many it will seem scarcely credible that slavery can exist in our modern age.
Modern slavery is an evil which is happening around the world today – including here in Britain. Across this country in restaurants, shops, brothels, nail bars and on illegal drugs farms are women, men and children, being held against their will, and forced into a life of slavery and abuse.
This Government is determined to stamp out this appalling crime. I am introducing a Modern Slavery Bill – the first of its kind in Europe – which will consolidate and strengthen legislation, making it easier to prosecute and ensuring the harshest penalties are available for the slave drivers and traffickers who inflict such pain and harm. And we can do even more than legislation. An effective law enforcement response is vital if we are to identify victims, and so we are raising awareness and training frontline professionals. We are creating an Anti-Slavery Commissioner – a vital post that will hold to account law enforcement at all levels, the Crown Prosecution Service, local authorities and others to ensure that when victims are identified they are compensated and cared for - and when the slave drivers are found they are put behind bars and stripped of their assets. In Britain and across Europe prosecution rates are far, far too low. I want to change that.
We are also developing a range of policies to tackle this abhorrent crime. Some can take effect now - like the child advocates pilots - and others will take longer - like our work with foreign governments.
Ridding Britain of modern slavery will not happen overnight. But every arrest, and every prosecution, means more victims freed, and more prevented from being enslaved in the first place. And all those who still engage in this appalling trade in human misery should be clear: they will be tracked down, prosecuted and sent behind bars.