Slavery event in Parliament with Harriet Harman MP and Aidan McQuade

Harriet Harman MP addressing MPs and Peers on the issue of slavery and human trafficking

On Tuesday I organised an event in Parliament that sought to draw attention to the fact that up to 30 million people around the world are enslaved – including thousands within Britain. This means more slaves exist today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Below is an extract from the press release:

Mark Hendrick MP hosted an event in Parliament on Tuesday that celebrated the achievements of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade and discussed contemporary slavery and human trafficking. Guest speakers included Harriet Harman MP and the Director of Anti-Slavery International, Aidan McQuade.

Mr Hendrick said: “It has been two and quarter centuries since the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade started their campaign against slavery. Despite their pioneering efforts, slavery has yet to be resigned to the history books.

Tuesday’s event was a testament to how seriously the issue of slavery and human trafficking is taken across the political spectrum. It was very well attended by both MPs and Peers from all parties and I am thankful for Harriet Harman MP and Aidan McQuade for sharing their thoughts.”

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Harriet Harman QC MP stated: “In order to make a difference we need to create a more equal world. People who have prospects do not become slaves.

It is important that the government does not turn back the clock by making unnecessary cuts to law enforcement that harms Britain’s effectiveness in the fight against human trafficking. The key to making a difference is international cooperation. The government needs to work closely with Eurojust and our colleagues in Europe. We cannot afford to be Eurosceptic.”

Aidan McQuade, the Director of Anti-Slavery International, spoke at length about the plight of individuals that are victims of domestic servitude and was critical of the stance taken by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in negotiations to introduce a convention to protect the rights of domestic workers. “The Department of Business is something of a bastion of unreconstructed laissez-faire liberalism, which seems to regards it as a mortal sin to introduce any regulation for anything. It is therefore something of a joke in poor taste that they represent the UK in the current negotiations in Geneva for a new international convention on decent work for domestic workers. In advance of the negotiations they made clear their reservations on doing anything about regulating the working time, health and safety and recruitment practices to do with domestic workers – in other words they wished to do nothing on three of the key areas where lack of regulation facilitates the forced labour and exploitation of vulnerable workers.

In the course of the negotiations this week the UK was the only country in the world to insist that its opposition to measures to protect the health and safety of domestic workers was formally recorded in the International Labour Conference proceedings.”

In discussing the challenges of fighting human trafficking, Mr McQuade stated: “A fundamental problem with tackling contemporary slavery is that it tends to be considered by government as a problem for a few different departments – most notably the Home Office and occasionally the FCO – rather than something that is recognised as being a matter of central importance across government, particularly in the economic departments. The Department of Business demonstrates little interest in the fact that forced labour is endemic in the supply chains of many leading British brands, to such an extent that many of us spend our days wearing at least one garment that has been produced in part by enslaved people.”

Mrs Harman went on to discuss the disproportionate impact that human trafficking has on women and girls and spoke about the role the sex industry plays in contemporary slavery: “There is a debate on whether women who become prostitutes do so out of free choice. I believe that we need to make it a criminal offence for any man to pay for sex. By stopping someone freely entering into prostitution we are helping her sisters elsewhere who are sex slaves are who are repeatedly raped ten or fifteen times a day.

I recently discussed these issues with Michele Bachelet, the inspirational head of UN Women. I am in the process of launching the UN Women All Party Parliamentary Group and I urge all Parliamentarians to join to demonstrate that Britain is serious about tackling the rights of women around the world.”

Reflecting upon the fight against slavery over the past 250 years, Mr McQuade concluded: “The abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade along with the Allies victory in the Second World War, which led directly to the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, remain shining moments in human history for which Britain can rightly take particular pride. The impulses that drove those achievements are still desperately needed in human affairs. Making human rights, particularly anti-slavery concerns, central in formulation of development and business policy for the UK would be an impressive beginning.”

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