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Four things to include in an effective modern slavery prevention strategy

Policy Impact Manager Dr. Victoria Tecca blogs on essential elements of effective modern slavery prevention strategies.

Published: 26th April 2023

Governments around the world have created strategies that guide and frame the actions they take to prevent and address modern slavery. A Strategy is a key tool for any organisation to help set a long-term vision, focus their efforts, and measure progress.

Most of these modern slavery and human trafficking strategies are broadly structured around an internationally agreed framework called the ‘3Ps’. The 3Ps – derived from the Palermo Protocol – stand for (1) Prosecution, (2) Protection, and (3) Prevention, and are sometimes supplemented by a fourth P, for Partnerships.

The Scottish Government’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy is one such example, and by law must be reviewed every three years so that Ministers can determine whether to revise it. Keeping strategies under review is an important way to assess whether their objectives remain relevant to the changing nature and scale of modern slavery, and the wider policy landscape.

The Modern Slavery PEC recently drew on findings from the research we funded to make recommendations to the Scottish Government about what to consider in the current review of their Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy, which has been in place since 2017. This gave us an opportunity to reflect on what makes for an effective prevention Strategy, beyond the 3Ps framework.

Based on available evidence, including Modern Slavery PEC-funded research, we can broadly specify four things that policymakers can incorporate into their prevention strategies.

1. Prevention should be embedded throughout all actions that address modern slavery, including in the categories of Protection and Prosecution.

It’s sometimes assumed that prevention only entails stopping exploitation before it occurs in the first place. However, harm can occur and recur after someone who has experienced exploitation has been identified and is being supported. Protection and prosecution measures can be designed in a way that prevents this from happening.

Research funded by the Modern Slavery PEC evaluated the effectiveness of prevention measures using a public health approach. The researchers conceptualise prevention as a cycle, where harm can be prevented at various stages, such as before any form of exploitation occurs, through to the early identification of harm, and to prevent re-trafficking. They propose a new definition of prevention – one that’s been informed by people with lived experience – as an “ongoing process of avoiding and minimising exploitation and harm”. The overall effectiveness of the Strategy is likely to be enhanced if prevention is embedded into the whole system, rather than as a single pillar.

The researchers conceptualise prevention as a cycle, where harm can be prevented at various stages

Dr Victoria Tecca

2. Focus on structural issues to get at the root of the problem.

Most government strategies outline actions they’ll take to prevent and address modern slavery. But sometimes these actions aren’t designed in a way that addresses the root of the issues they’re trying to change.

For instance, we know that the general public has a role to play in preventing modern slavery. Some Strategies try to address this by committing to raise awareness among consumers about the impact of what they buy. However, this type of prevention effort needs to be coupled with actions that target the structural drivers of modern slavery, such as poverty, and the factors that render people more susceptible to modern slavery, such as homelessness.

Modern Slavery PEC-funded research is currently examining some of these factors. For example, one project is investigating whether – and if so, how – the conditions attached to temporary visas linked to specific sectors render people who use them vulnerable to exploitation. Another looks at how children with special educational needs and disabilities might be more at risk of being exploited.

Prevention actions that seek to indirectly address modern slavery, such as raising public awareness, are useful interventions. But they’re more effective when integrated with actions aimed at addressing the structures that create and exacerbate vulnerabilities.

3. Engage meaningfully with people with lived experience to develop a more effective strategy.

Research funded by the Modern Slavery PEC shows that policies and programmes that are co-produced with people with lived experience are more effective and reduce harm. It also leads to a host of other benefits to the individuals involved in the engagement process and to the wider community.

The research team also identified three key principles for meaningful engagement with people with lived experience: being non-tokenistic, being trauma-informed, and preventing harm. They also developed a typology of 14 promising practices for meaningful engagement, which can be combined with toolkits that are emerging across the sector to learn how to think through and carry out high-quality, meaningful engagement. Apart from being the right thing to do, meaningfully involving survivors in the design of prevention strategies can make them more effective.

The research identified three key principles for meaningful engagement with people with lived experience: being non-tokenistic, being trauma-informed, and preventing harm.

Dr Victoria Tecca

4. Commit to improving the evidence base as a key action.

We know that the most effective laws and policies are grounded in a robust evidence base. Building knowledge and understanding about modern slavery – and then using that knowledge in policymaking – is a key commitment that should be included in any prevention strategy. While many drivers of modern slavery are similar globally, they’re expressed in local ways. They can also shift over time, especially as a result of specific phenomena like Covid-19 or climate change. Building the evidence base about modern slavery as root drivers evolve ensures that strategic activities take these changes into account.

We know there are significant gaps in the evidence around prevention; we need insights into what effective prevention means both in principle and in practice. To help fill this gap, we are working to identify and fund research that addresses modern slavery prevention by looking at factors that increase vulnerability to modern slavery and the structural drivers behind them. We know that research has a crucial role to play in furthering our understanding of how to effectively prevent harm from modern slavery, and exploitation more widely.

We’re looking forward to seeing the outcome of the Scottish Government’s review of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy, and continuing to inform this process with evidence produced by the Modern Slavery PEC and others.