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Answers to frequently asked questions about the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre.

The purpose of a Policy and Evidence Centre is to build the bridge between the excellent research being done in universities and other research organisations and the world of policy-making, law-making and international standard-setting. The key feature of the Modern Slavery PEC is its rigorous focus on having a high impact by ensuring that the research that it produces or facilitates is highly relevant to all the actors involved in those processes, including politicians, civil servants, civil society, business, journalists and international organisations, and that its outputs are in a form which can readily and directly influence those actors. A Modern Slavery PEC aims to provide independent, impartial and authoritative recommendations, grounded in rigorous research, and of practical use to all of those participants in the process of making and enforcing law, policy and international standards.

The Modern Slavery PEC responds to the challenge identified by the former UK Prime Minister, Rt Hon Theresa May, in her speech to the International Labour Organisation in Geneva: the urgent need to accelerate global progress in overcoming the increasingly urgent problem of modern slavery. While progress has been made, much work is left to do. This challenge affects every country, including developed economies, as recent high profile examples in the UK demonstrate.

Modern slavery is a human rights issue and the Modern Slavery PEC takes a human rights-based approach to addressing modern slavery. That means putting the needs and interests of the people who are or might become affected by modern slavery at the heart of legal and policy responses.

  • To transform our understanding of modern slavery.
  • To model and bring about a more collaborative approach to responding to modern slavery.
  • To make legal and policy responses to modern slavery more effective.
  • To bring into being a “network of networks”, to enable better dialogue and knowledge sharing about what works to combat modern slavery.

Much world class research on modern slavery is already done in the UK, including by partners in the Modern Slavery PEC. There are also many admirable initiatives around the world. But there is still much work being duplicated, and insufficient sharing of experience and insight. The Modern Slavery PEC will facilitate the collaboration required to achieve a step change in the policy-relevant research that is being done to inform legal and policy responses to modern slavery, by bringing researchers together with key stakeholders, including victims and survivors. It will also stimulate innovative responses, helping to make the most of technological developments and the innovative energy of the private sector.

Broadly speaking, the impact aimed for is:

  • Better policy.
  • Better laws.
  • More emphasis on prevention.
  • Enhanced support for victims and survivors.
  • More effective enforcement of laws against modern slavery.
  • Fewer people trapped in modern slavery.
  • An increase in measurable progress towards the global goal of eradicating modern slavery by 2030.

The research agenda will focus on four broad themes:

  • Prevention – e.g. understanding better the systemic factors which make individuals vulnerable to modern slavery and the ecosystems which sustain it, so that policy interventions can increasingly focus on prevention rather than cure.
  • Understanding the needs of victims and survivors and enhancing their support – e.g. evaluating the effectiveness of current forms of support such as the National Referral Mechanism and how support can be provided in a way that minimises the risk of survivors being re-trafficked.
  • Transparency in supply chains – e.g. research aimed at understanding consumer behaviour in response to information about modern slavery in business supply chains, and how it can be leveraged; what incentivises business to take a more proactive approach to eliminating modern slavery in their supply chains; how to ensure that public bodies are also proactive about modern slavery in supply chains in their approach to procurement.
  • Law enforcement – e.g. research aimed at understanding better the obstacles to using the existing suite of enforcement measures to prosecute modern slavery offences.
  • Overarching themes, such as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on modern slavery

No. Modern slavery in the UK will be an important focus of the Modern Slavery PEC, but the phenomenon is, by its very nature, a global problem, so the Centre will also be focused on modern slavery internationally. It will engage with the UK F oreign Office and Department for International Development about its policy towards modern slavery overseas. It will engage with foreign governments and legislatures about their legal and policy responses to modern slavery. And it will engage directly with international organisations working on modern slavery, including international standard-setting processes.

The Modern Slavery PEC will publish open calls for research proposals in areas considered to be research priorities. Each call will be pre-announced by AHRC/UKRI and the calls themselves will be accompanied by detailed guidance explaining the purpose of the call and the sort of research that is being looked for. The first open calls on the survivor support and recovery and on the impact of Covid-19 on modern slavery have already been published..

The Modern Slavery PEC will be seeking to identify the research questions which require long term thinking and careful consideration, but will also aim to be agile, responding quickly to opportunities that arise to inform and influence the policy debate where there is a basis in research to do so. Its approach to commissioning research will therefore combine both longer term projects and shorter evaluations and studies capable of informing current developments.

Yes. The Modern Slavery PEC will work closely with policy-makers to ensure that its work is policy-relevant. It will inform and influence policy but it will not be afraid to challenge Government policy where necessary in light of the evidence produced by its research.

Yes. The Modern Slavery PEC will directly involve business as an important partner in the work to end modern slavery and will seek to harness the private sector’s creative capacity to innovate, but it will not be controlled or unduly influenced by private interests. Contributing partners, which make contributions in cash or in kind to the Modern Slavery PEC, will be sought, but all contributions will be completely transparent. Academic freedom and integrity will be core values of the Modern Slavery PEC and will be safeguarded through rigorous governance structures.

No. The Modern Slavery PEC shares the universally agreed goal of eradicating modern slavery but will only provide policy-relevant evidence and recommendations which are the product of rigorous research conducted to the highest standards of academic integrity. It will seek to inform, influence and challenge on the basis of that research, and will help to ensure that advocacy is grounded in robust research work, but the Modern Slavery PEC will not be a campaigning or lobbying organisation.

As well as being a human rights issues, modern slavery is also a Rule of Law issue. The Rule of Law requires that everyone enjoys the equal protection of the law. But millions of people today do not enjoy the protection of universally agreed international legal standards prohibiting slavery. More detailed protective legal frameworks either do not exist, are too weak, or are not effectively enforced in practice. The scale and persistence of modern slavery is in part the product of Rule of Law weakness or absence. The Modern Slavery PEC will be focused on how to deliver on the Rule of Law’s promise by extending the law’s protection of human dignity to everyone.

Modern slavery is also a problem that goes beyond the Rule of Law. Modern slavery is a complex phenomenon and to transform our understanding of it requires the input and expertise of a variety of academic disciplines from the arts and humanities, social sciences and technology. The Modern Slavery PEC is also committed to tackling modern slavery as a problem of sustainable development (SDG 8.7), of labour standards and rights, and of organised crime. The Modern Slavery PEC acknowledges that modern slavery is a product of drivers and root causes that are socio-economic, political and cultural in nature. The Modern Slavery PEC brings this expertise together in the consortium of partners, and will also be interdisciplinary in the wider partnerships that it builds to achieve its objectives. The other member universities within the Modern Slavery PEC’s consortium have an array of expertise across these different factors and the disciplinary capacity to apply appropriate theories and methods of analysis that enable an understanding of the contribution that these factors make to the problem of modern slavery.

The UKRI funding of the Modern Slavery PEC is for a five year period, to the end of the financial year 2023/24. However successful the Modern Slavery PEC is against its impact measures, its work will not be done by then. The Modern Slavery PEC will work from the outset to secure its long term future beyond the term of the grant, by building up relationships with contributing partners, and will aim to make itself sustainable by becoming an indispensable independent and authoritative voice in the long term effort to eradicate modern slavery.