Last week in the United Kingdom some of the powers of the Modern Slavery Act came into force, a little over two years from when the evidence led Centre for Social Justice's report: 'It Happens Here' was published. It called upon the government to decisively act in light of the overwhelming evidence that the UK's response was inadequate in identifying, let alone effectively dealing with the growing problem of modern slavery and we were failing the victims that were being found. The report made eighty recommendations if the UK was to get back to first base.
At the report's publication I was repeatedly told that our primary recommendations: A Modern Slavery Act; an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner; better identification, protection and care for victims; addressing the specific needs surrounding children and Transparency in Supply Chains would not happen. There was no appetite for new legislation, let alone a Commissioner, and thinking that businesses could be asked to address the issues of forced labour and modern slavery was fanciful.
Yet in the light of the overwhelming evidence we presented, doing nothing was clearly not an option. Many had been raising the issues over a number of years and yet 'It Happens Here' became the catalyst for government action as acknowledged by the Home Secretary, Theresa May. The report offered not only the irrefutable evidence of the scale of the problems faced but also a coherent plan for tackling the problem.
So two years ago there was nothing, zero, zip, no chance. Fast forward two years and we have a Modern Slavery Act, a Commissioner, specific provision for children, a review of how we can effectively identify victims and a Transparency in Supply Chains clause in the act requiring large businesses, with worldwide sales in excess of £36 million, to report what they are doing to ensure slavery cannot exist in its business practices and supply chains. Is the legislation perfect? No of course not, but get real no legislation will ever be perfect! But two years ago we had zero and then we had the opportunity to aim for a 100% and today we've ended up with 95%.
Reading some of the comments and press releases about the Modern Slavery Act has caused me to wonder if it is a very peculiar British trait or whether it is in fact endemic within the Third Sector that whilst giving a guarded welcome to the Act the focus has been on the 5%. Surely context is everything. Two years ago - zero, today 95% and yet writ large is 5%. Sometimes we focus so much on what we don't have that we fail to see, appreciate, and use what we do have!
We should pause and celebrate the United Kingdom's Modern Slavery Act. We should then commit to the hard work of ensuring that we use what we have, the powers, the reporting mechanisms, the further protection of victims and we should be thankful. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction. And as for the 5%, we will get there eventually.
"Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough" - Oprah Winfrey