On October 18, the United Kingdom Local Government Association (LGA) announced that referrals of potential child victims of modern slavery made by councils in England have increased by more than 800 percent over the past five years.
The LGA, which represents 339 of the 343 councils in England, reported that the number of such council referrals to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), through which the National Crime Agency’s (NCA’s) Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit collects data about victims, rose from 127 in 2014 to 1,152 in 2018 – an increase of 807 per cent. Most recently, between 2017 and 2018 the number of referrals increased by 67 percent, from 690 in 2017 to 1,152 in 2018. Moreover, the LGA stated that children accounted for 92 cent of all referrals (both children and adults) that councils in England made in 2018.
The LGA stated that the drastic increases in referral rates “are being fuelled by an increasing awareness of modern slavery and the growing issue of young people being exploited by county lines drugs gangs.” These county-lines gangs, who traffic drugs into rural areas along routes known as “county lines,” recruit and groom young people – many of them excluded from school as “difficult,” and some as young as nine – “to deal hard drugs on their behalf in market and coastal towns and rural areas.” According to the NCA, there are more than 1,500 lines across the United Kingdom.
After they are recruited, the children “are made to travel vast distances on trains and in taxis, including Uber cars. Once they reach their destination, they stay in properties rented by gangs, increasingly short-term lets and Airbnb homes.” Because of the growth of these drug gangs, earlier this month English and Welsh police conducted a coordinated operation that resulted in the arrests of 743 people and seized drugs worth more than £400,000, as well as 12 guns and dozens of other weapons.
This expanding exploitation of children, the LGA noted, “is putting council services under increasing and significant pressure.” The United Kingdom’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, recently stated that the system is “slowing down” as a result of the increase in child modern slavery referrals. She also commented that the Government’s estimate of 10,000 to 13,000 modern-slavery victims in the United Kingdom “is way below what it is.”
N.B.: For corporate compliance teams, the principal focus for Modern Slavery Act compliance programs understandably is on companies’ operations and supply chains. Companies doing business in the United Kingdom, however, should include information about child modern slavery in their Modern Slavery Act training and messaging, As executives and employees learn more about the larger dimensions of modern slavery, the more likely they are to appreciate that inclusion of Modern Slavery Act compliance in their company’s “culture of compliance” can play a part in combating this pernicious practice.