Theresa May: Internet 'enabling barbaric crimes' of modern slavery

27 February 2018, 20:57

Theresa May is stepping up her drive to stop internet companies fuelling "barbaric crimes" of modern slavery, by hosting a major summit in 10 Downing Street.

The Prime Minister's Modern Slavery Taskforce - including ministers, prosecutors, police and intelligence chiefs - is meeting to discuss action needed to tackle the scourge.

"Modern slavery destroys the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society," said Mrs May, who has made the issue a major foreign policy priority, ahead of the meeting.

"All too often we see criminal gangs coerce people with false promises of a better life, only to treat their victims as commodities for sexual exploitation.

"What is clear is that the internet is giving them the space to do this, and enabling these barbaric crimes."

The Prime Minister is also repeating a call she made in her speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

"Internet companies cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery or the spreading of terrorist and extremist content," she said.

"As the hosts of user-generated content, internet companies can and should be doing more to prevent trafficking-related material from appearing on their platforms."

The Government estimates that sexual exploitation currently accounts for around half of all modern slavery occurring in the UK, with criminal gangs exploiting the internet to advertise victims on adult service websites.

The Prime Minister will receive an update on prosecutions and the multi-agency work under way by the National Crime Agency (NCA), police, security services, immigration enforcement and others, alongside the latest use of cutting-edge technology to identify sexual exploitation on the internet.

This includes work by the NCA, Cabinet Office and data specialists from across Government, who are currently trialling the use of innovative data analytics to uncover more victims of modern slavery.

By analysing internet sites that could be used to advertise modern slaves, this technology identifies ways in which offenders are operating online to exploit trafficked victims.

According to the Government, although still in its infancy, this approach has already provided investigative leads in both the UK and overseas and will allow agencies to better target operational activities and bring more perpetrators of this horrendous crime to justice.

Ministers attending the taskforce, set up by Mrs May in 2016, will be Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Justice Secretary David Gauke, Attorney General Jeremy Wright, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and junior Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden.

They are being joined by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland and representatives of the Joint Intelligence Committee, National Security Secretariat, NCA, Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, Interpol and the Metropolitan Police.

Last September, the Prime Minister pledged to double the UK Government's aid spending on tackling modern slavery to more than £150m, including £33.5m worth of money for programmes in countries from where a high number of victims are brought to the UK.