This week Lord Ashcroft announced a new Crimestoppers initiative on human trafficking, using an article on ConservativeHome to outline plans to run a campaign with the UK Human Trafficking Centre.
There's much to commend in the article. Starting with a definition of the problem, Ashcroft writes:
There is generally quite a good public awareness of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but the awareness level is much lower when it comes to labour exploitation. However, the exploitation of victims in industries such as agriculture, food processing and textiles is far more prevalent than is imagined.
Absolutely correct. That's exactly how people see the issue – and dare I say it, that includes many of the MPs and Peers who have done some hugely important campaigning in Parliament.
There is an important question about terminology. As a rule of thumb, trafficking is transporting someone for the purposes of exploiting them; forced labour is exploitation that can exist with or without trafficking.
That sounds like a technical distinction, but definitions are important. It's why we wrote a report exploring different degrees of exploitation in work – because you need to understand what you're dealing with.
And depending on what you're aiming to tackle, the policy responses can vary. The traditional emphasis in the UK on trafficking, for example, generally leads to answers involving immigration policy. But if forced labour is possible without transporting people, the range of policy tools needs to be broader – and not just focussed on border controls and immigration enforcement (for a more detailed discussion, see our report on how immigration status and forced labour interact).
The bigger question here is about the place of legislation. It can only do so much, when a crucial factor is the way that businesses behave.
In that context, it's welcome that Ashcroft places business at the heart of his article:
But now, in these difficult times, we need another helping hand from the private sector: to enable us to set about ending a practice that is completely unacceptable in the modern age. There are many benefits to supporting this new campaign, quite apart from corporate social responsibility. The existence of human trafficking, and its association with some industries, has a negative effect on legitimate businesses that are linked to such sectors. A strong stand against human trafficking by a company sends the right message to everyone, including its own staff (who see it as a positive act to work on society’s behalf against this dreadful crime).
Again, absolutely correct. The enemy of forced labour is legitimate business. CSR is good and worthy; much more convincing is the bottom line. When forced labour exists, firms that play by the rules are undercut by those that don’t. So this appeal to the private sector is exactly the right approach.
The JRF has a paper on regulation and forced labour due out soon, and we'll continue to publish across 2012. Watch this space – and we’re looking forward to hearing more about Crimestoppers' campaign.