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We want to transform solutions to modern slavery

Real policy change is at the heart of our strategy, writes the PEC director Murray Hunt.

Published: 29th April 2021

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre exists to move us towards a world where people are protected from modern slavery by effective, evidence-informed laws and policies. Today, we’re publishing our strategy outlining how we’re planning to transform the effectiveness of these laws and policies and to enhance understanding of this hugely complex problem.

Modern slavery – a relatively new umbrella term for a wide variety of issues, from trafficking and forced labour to forced marriage and domestic servitude – is not widely understood or adequately addressed by existing laws and policies.

Despite some positive developments, the laws and policies addressing modern slavery are in their relative infancy. Our existing legal, economic and cultural systems aren’t doing enough to protect people from exploitation, and this has been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. And, despite good research carried out both by academics and non-academics, the evidence base supporting effective solutions either hasn’t yet been fully developed or hasn’t cut through to decision-makers.

We want to build on existing research and take it into the next phase to provide innovative, independent, impartial and authoritative insight with a game-changing potential to drive real policy change. That is why our research will be driven by three principles of effectiveness, equity and survivor involvement.

Effectiveness is about making sure that we break out of our academic bubbles and carry out research that is laser-focused on impacting anti-slavery policies and improving understanding of what works. Equity is a two-fold principle; addressing structural inequalities, root causes of modern slavery and wider systemic issues of social justice on one hand, and making sure we allocate research funding in a more equitable way on another. Survivor involvement is about involving people affected by modern slavery at all stages, from selection, through design, production and implementation. It’s easier said than done, and there’s a lot of work we need to do to do it well, but if we’re to change policies preventing modern slavery effectively, we need to bring people with lived experience to the table.

We set our priorities for research, divided into four research areas of prevention, survivor support, slavery in supply chains and effectiveness of legal enforcement measures, with an extra research area to enable us to respond to emerging and cross-cutting issues, such as the impact of Covid-19 and the scale and nature of modern slavery.

Collaboration is one of our central guiding principles and building them will be at the forefront of our work. One of the big problems we’re facing is a gap that exists between academic research and the world of policymaking and the frontline work with people directly affected by modern slavery. We’re going to proactively build an inclusive “network of networks” to facilitate new collaborations capable of generating innovative solutions to modern slavery.

We will also work on changing the narrative in which we talk about modern slavery. Being a hugely complex issue, with a wide range of forms of exploitation and a long list of underpinning systemic and individual factors contributing to making people vulnerable to it, we need to learn how to talk about it in a clear and accurate way. Using our research as a base, we will work to develop narratives that have people with lived experience at the forefront and that bring systemic factors underpinning modern slavery to the fore.

It’s important to note that this strategy follows a wide-ranging consultation on what research we should prioritise and what it should look like, with actors working against modern slavery in many areas.. Over 120 people who filled out our survey, nearly 80 who took part in roundtables and many others who we proactively asked for advice, told us that making research more equitable and focused on policy impact should be at the forefront of our work, as well as helping us identify key themes, topics and challenges.

I would like to thank everyone who helped us develop this strategy for their invaluable contributions. Now the important work starts to implement it and move us closer towards a world where people are better protected from exploitation by effective laws and policies.

Murray Hunt, Director of the Modern Slavery PEC