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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Two-way traffic: forced migration and modern slavery

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Meg attended a seminar jointly organised by the Foreign Office and the Royal Commonwealth Society on migration and slavery. She was part of a panel on the topic, took a question and answer session and gave the following speech.


I am pleased to be here this evening. Not least because I have been closely involved in the Government’s plans to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and in combating the growth of human trafficking into the UK.


At the beginning of the year I was a Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, and engaged in the planning process for the commemoration of the bicentenary. We were able to engage with interested parties across the UK, to support a wide range of events designed to mark the bicentenary in a way that meant something to local communities.


We began the year with a focus on raising awareness of the bicentenary, of the transatlantic slave trade, and of Britain’s role in both the trade and its abolition.


We went on to commemorate those who suffered, those who struggled to put an end to the slave trade and those who worked to ensure that the new laws were enforced.


In many cases these initiatives leave a lasting memorial.  The Museums in Hull and Liverpool, in particular, serve as permanent reminders.


The National Education Project will embed teaching about the slave trade into the national curriculum. It will provide resources for teachers and students to use the history and legacy of slavery as a tool to promote respect amongst the young generation and for those of different races.


My move to the Foreign Office this summer was timely in that the government’s strategy had reached the third discrete area of work identified for the bicentenary - that of legacy.  From ’Reflecting on the Past’ the time had come to ’look to the future’.


So what are we doing now?


We are concentrating on ways to address discrimination that exists within communities in the UK.


We are also focussing on the wider issues of poverty and inequality in the developing world.  This leads us on to various forms of contemporary slavery that are endemic across the globe.


Millions of people still live in modern day forms of slavery.  Bonded labourers, descent based labourers, child labourers, of whom the International Labour Organisation estimate there are nearly 200 million worldwide. 


Included are children who have been conscripted into military activity, women and children who have been forced into prostitution and people who have fallen victim to people traffickers. 


Many of these injustices are caused or made worse by poverty.  One in five people in the world today live on less than one dollar a day.  Millions of people have no access to clean water, basic sanitation or food, let alone education or the prospect of earning a fair wage.


If we are to stop people becoming modern day slaves, we must step up our efforts to address the wider issues of global poverty and lack of access to education and opportunity.


Gordon Brown spoke earlier this year of summoning a vast coalition of conscience urging all sectors of all societies to work together as we race to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  It took just such a coalition of conscience 200 years ago to put a stop to the eighteenth and nineteenth century slave trade.


I know that the International Labour Organisation is making its own contribution to these goals by promoting a Global Alliance against Forced Labour by 2015.  We share the same objectives, we can work together to target our efforts most effectively.


The ILO estimates that nearly two and a half million people have fallen victim to human trafficking, a particularly cruel and degrading trade in human beings.  Indeed, in April 2006 the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime published “Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns”, in which it identified 127 countries of origin, 98 transit countries and 137 destination countries. 


People who are coerced into situations where they are unable, or too afraid, to leave, are likely to be poor, vulnerable and desperately frightened to ask for help.  Of course, the people who exploit them will make sure that they stay that way.


When I was Minister for Women and Equality I learned something of the appalling experiences that women and young people are subjected to when they are trafficked to work in the sex industry. The UK Human Trafficking Centre was opened in my home city of Sheffield last October to organise police operations, gather intelligence, formulate new policies and improve the care available to victims rescued from their captors.


The Foreign Office is engaged with multilateral organisations to pursue our human rights objectives to end slavery and trafficking in human beings. We work with the United Nations, the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, the International Labour Organisation, and the European Union to pursue our goals. 


We have had a particular success recently with the UN Human Rights Council agreeing to establish a Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Slavery.  This was at UK’s initiative and is a timely achievement in this bicentenary year. 


On 26th March at the House of Lords, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime launched their Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery. We welcome this initiative to bring together the international community in common cause, to focus and intensify our efforts to tackle the trade in human beings. 


The UK Government takes its responsibility seriously, which is why we are signatories to the relevant international protocols including the Palermo Protocol, and latterly the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, which we signed on 23rd March.


Signing this Convention is more than a symbolic gesture; it marks a commitment to implement the obligations it imposes. It provides a framework for the minimum rights and protection of all identified victims of trafficking. Government is currently ensuring that all changes to domestic legislation, processes and guidance are in place to fully comply with its terms before we formally ratify it.


On the same day as signing the Convention, the UK Government launched its Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking. This Plan sets out proposals in the areas of prevention, enforcement and prosecution, and the protection and support of adult and child victims of human trafficking. 


We work closely with others such as DfiD, the International Organisation for Migration, and UNODC to build capacity and awareness raising in both source and transit countries. In fact DfID funds projects worth over 14 million, working with NGOs and International Agencies to inform people, particularly women in South East Asia, about the dangers.


In addition, through the Global Opportunities Fund, the Foreign Office supports a number of projects which aim to tackle human trafficking and smuggling in source and transit countries.


Children are particularly vulnerable.  So the Foreign Office’s new Child Rights Strategy includes as an objective, the increased ratification and implementation of international instruments pertaining to children, and includes ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour. 

We work closely with other Whitehall departments such as the Home Office and DfID, and try to include NGOs wherever possible and this is where I look to Aiden McQuade from Anti-Slavery international, as a shining example of this co-operation.  


As I finish with the situation today, let’s take a moment to remember the energy and commitment of those 19th century abolitionists. We can use this anniversary; mirror the dedication of the men and women who fought slavery 200 years ago in order to continue campaigning to abolish its modern day equivalent. 

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