Stephen Chapman: ‘Slavery is alive in Wales. And there is no silver bullet for it’ | Nicola Slawson

Public bodies must collaborate to eliminate hidden exploitation – and people have to be vigilant, says the Welsh anti-slavery tsar Stephen Chapman

In the Senedd in Cardiff, home to the Welsh assembly, Stephen Chapman talks with passion about how modern slavery can be tackled. “No one person can solve the problem. It is a heinous crime and there is no silver bullet for it, so it demands a multi-agency response,” says Wales’ anti-slavery tsar.

The latest figures from the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation show 25 million people were trapped in forced labour globally in 2016. Of those, 16 million are thought to be in the private sector, involved in domestic work, construction or agriculture, and 4.8 million in forced sexual exploitation.

The official number of victims in Wales remains fairly low, with 125 recorded through the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) referral mechanism last year, but this is a fourfold increase since Chapman took office in 2012. And across the UK, there has been a 300% rise in the victims of modern slavery referred for support over the past six years, according to figures released this week by the Salvation Army. The increase is a reflection of the growing number of modern slaves in the UK and improved identification, the charity says.

Chapman believes many more slaves will be “hidden in plain sight”. “The message we want to give out is that Wales is hostile to slavery and we will not tolerate it,” he says.

In 2016, there were 33 victims identified in Northern Ireland, 150 in Scotland and 3,499 in England. Chapman sees strong partnership as the way forward. And as the Welsh government’s anti-slavery coordinator, it’s his job to bring together the police, the courts, the Department for Work and Pensions, health and social care, and voluntary sector organisations. He also coordinates with the UK’s anti-slavery body, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, as well as the NCA, and sits on Theresa May’s modern slavery taskforce, which was set up in 2016.

It’s a theme that resonates with the government. In recent weeks, Amber Rudd, the home secretary, said that modern slavery can only be eradicated by collective effort as she called for businesses to take action and check their supply chains. Last month, May called on the United Nations to unite behind tough action to end modern slavery. Even the Queen has reportedly personally intervened to stamp out trafficking throughout the countries of the Commonwealth.

Chapman’s role was created four years ahead of May’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 – a law that Chapman calls “groundbreaking, although not perfect”. Neither England nor Scotland have chosen to follow Wales’ lead and appoint an anti-slavery tsar. One of the reasons Chapman’s role is necessary in Wales is because it is relatively easy to get into the country from Ireland, especially through the Port of Holyhead and the Newport docklands, he says. “On the west coast of the UK, we have the common travel area with Ireland, so people don’t have to show passports. It’s a less rigorous regime than at airports or in places like Dover. It contributes to making the borders porous – and criminals do their best to exploit it.” Not all victims will be kept in Wales; many will be taken elsewhere in the UK.

One of his priorities is tackling the myths surrounding modern slavery. “When I came into the job, everyone thought slavery was just about the sex trade,” he says. The case of Darrell Simester, who was forced to work 15-hour days without pay and live in appalling conditions on a farm in south Wales, soon put paid to that myth. David Daniel Doran was jailed in October 2014 for four-and-a-half years, after admitting to making Simester, who has autism, perform forced or compulsory labour. An earlier case involving the Connors family, who forced vulnerable men into back-breaking work for their family business in south Wales for as little as £5 a day – including one for 26 years – led to more people and organisations taking slavery in Wales seriously.

“Those cases gave Wales, and the UK, the wake-up call that slavery is alive and well – and it’s not just about girls from a country in Africa or eastern Europe. Dare I say it, while people sympathise with those cases, they do not grab the headlines. It seemed that when it was one of our own exploiting one of our own, the public took a lot more interest in it.”

A former deputy director of the UK border agency who joined the police force at 17 due to a dearth of job prospects after he left school in the Peak District, Chapman, now in his mid-60s, has established a Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group which includes chief constables and a representative from the Crown Prosecution Service to provide guidance on tackling the issue. Last year, 5,500 frontline staff in the police and the criminal justice system received training and more will do so in 2017.

At a conference in June for leaders of social services, Chapman told delegates that modern slavery probably exists in social care. So far in Wales, there have not been any cases of care homes found to use forced labour, but Chapman says Welsh local authorities need to “be vigilant”. The problem could occur when public bodies put services out to tender, which then get subcontracted, so they don’t always know who is actually doing the work, he says.

Under the Modern Slavery Act, companies with a turnover of £36m and above have to declare the measures they take to stop slavery in their supply chain – but in Wales there aren’t many who reach that threshold. Chapman believes the stipulation should also apply to local authorities, police forces, health boards, social care organisations and charities.

He and his colleagues have created a code of practice with guidelines and toolkits, that organisations voluntarily sign up to. On Monday, all four police chief constables and police and crime commissioners in Wales signed up. “We knew we had to do something if we wanted to be serious about making supply lines transparent. We couldn’t bring in legislation and we can’t amend the act as it’s not a devolved issue,” says Chapman.

An awareness campaign, including a TV advertisement, is launching today to coincide with the UK’s anti-slavery day on 18 October. “We need to let everyone know how you can report something you see. The public know when things are wrong or right – and we want people to know they can call the Modern Slavery Helpline,” says Chapman. “Welsh people have a moral and social conscience. They do report concerns.”

Curriculum Vitae

Age: Mid 60s.

Lives: Cardiff.

Family: Married with children.

Education: Academic qualifications include a master’s in business administration, a master’s in management, and a postgraduate certificate in leadership. He is a PRINCE2 qualified project manager.

Career: November 2012 to present: Welsh government’s anti-slavery co-ordinator. Previous jobs include: security and resilience directorate, London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games; deputy director, UK Border Agency; assistant director, Police Standards Unit and Violent Crime Unit, Home Office; head of equalities and community safety, Cardiff council; area commander, police service

Public life: An ambassador for the White Ribbon Campaign which promotes men taking a stand to end violence against women.

Interests: Rugby Union, cricket, travel and Roman history.


Nicola Slawson

The GuardianTramp

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