British PM says spy chiefs to join new taskforce to 'stamp out' modern slavery

September 20, 2016 6:57 AM EDT

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in central London, Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville


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By Lin Taylor

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British intelligence agencies will form part of a new taskforce to "stamp out" modern slavery, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May will announce on Tuesday, urging world leaders to do more to get rid of the "evil" practice.

The heads of Britain's domestic and foreign intelligence services, MI5 and MI6, and the nation's security agency, Government Communications Headquarters, as well as police agencies Europol and Interpol will join the taskforce.

This comes as part of a concerted approach to eradicate modern slavery with UK government figures estimating between 10,000 and 13,000 people are living as slaves in Britain.

"Just as the criminals cross borders, so we need a radical new approach that crosses borders – sharing intelligence and joining up investigations," May said in a statement ahead of her maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"This is standard in the case of drugs trafficking and the trade in illegal firearms and there is no excuse for our law enforcement authorities failing to do this when it comes to modern slavery."

May will also pledge at least 5 million pounds ($6.50 million) on anti-trafficking efforts in Nigeria, a proven human trafficking route into Britain.

"We owe it to the innocent men, women and children who are being tricked into a life of hard labor and abuse to rid our world of this evil," said May, who took over a prime minister in Britain in July.

Nearly 46 million people around the world are living as slaves, forced to work in factories, mines and farms, sold for sex, trapped in debt bondage or born into servitude, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation.

Modern slavery has become a catch-all term to describe human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, sex trafficking, forced marriage and other slave-like exploitation.

The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor generates global profits of about $150 billion per year, mainly from the Asia-Pacific region and developed economies, including the European Union.

Seen as a milestone in the international fight against slavery, May introduced the Modern Slavery Act last year, requiring British businesses to disclose what action they have taken to ensure their supply chains are free of slave labor.

It also introduced tougher criminal sanctions for perpetrators and more victim protection.

In July, May said 33.5 million pounds ($43.47 million) of the overseas aid budget would be put into a five-year fund designed to tackle the issue in countries like Nigeria.

"Just as it was Britain that took an historic stand to ban slavery two centuries ago, I am determined that the United Kingdom will once again lead the way in defeating modern slavery," May added.

($1 = 0.7688 pounds)

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women's rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)



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