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Justice for the cockle pickers would be a new Modern Slavery Bill

5 February 2014

6:21 PM

5 February 2014

6:21 PM

Ten years ago the sands of Morecambe Bay were stained by modern slavery.  The death of 23 terrified Chinese cockle pickers, left stranded as the tide swept in, shocked our country.

Smuggled into the region with the false promise of prosperity, two women and 22 men were sent to do the treacherous beach work on 5 February 2004.  Their ringleaders had destroyed their passports, and, using violence, threats and the cruellest of coercion, they destroyed their lives too.

Only one survived. Li Hua spoke recently of his constant anguish. He tells of the night terrors, the panic attacks and his gut-wrenching sadness. Despite everything though, he knows he’s lucky to be alive.

In the end the principal trafficker, Triad chief Lin Liang Ren, served just four months in prison for each of the lives he ended.  Others, including his then girlfriend, were convicted of immigration offences.


A decade later too many people live with the torment Li Hua describes.  Millions more are yet to know the freedom he grips so tightly today.  Countless criminals continue to exploit victims unabated.

The global slavery picture is naturally blurry.  Some organisations estimate that as many as 27 million people are enslaved, others like the Walk Free Foundation have created an Index which tries to a make country by country assessment.  The UN says that trafficking ranks second only to the drug trade amongst the most valuable international crimes.

As the grim Morecambe anniversary passes, the picture in the UK is murkier still.  In the space of nine months in 2013 over a thousand victims were identified, according to the Home Office. But, because of flaws in our victim referral system and enforcement approach, the true number is much higher.

Yet amidst the injustice a precious opportunity has emerged.  Following the Centre for Social Justice’s 2013 report It Happens Here, the Home Secretary has committed to pass a new Modern Slavery Bill.  If crafted ambitiously and backed by Labour, it has the potential to prevent further tragedies like the one we remember today.

The Bill should create an independent role for an Anti-Slavery Commissioner to give a voice to survivors. It should bring clarity to the law to make policing, prosecutions and convictions easier. It should also ensure that businesses make a priority of ensuring their supply chains are clear of modern slavery.  Horsemeat instead of beef caused outrage.  What about the reality of slaves instead of staff?

Today, as we think of those who died at Morecambe Bay, we have a way out. Through a Modern Slavery Bill the UK can lead again. Let’s take our chance.

Christian Guy is Director of the Centre for Social Justice

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Show comments
  • Rocksy

    Are we talking about Native Scots being trafficked into England? Or Maybe Welsh? Or is it native English people being trafficked into Scotland? Or is this one of those cultural things which have been introduced to this country along with women dressed in bin bags, selective abortion, forced marriage, corruption etc. etc.

    • HookesLaw

      Why do you treat a serious issue in such a contemptible way?

      • Daniel Maris

        The point may have been put across in an unadorned fashion, but it is a valid point nonetheless. The spread of slavery to the UK has happened because we have been unwilling to prevent people with alien values from introducing them into this country. A classic example is all the corrupt and corrupting Saudi princes we have allowed in with their domestic staff, who are nearly all virtual slaves.

        • Rocksy

          How should it have been adorned I wonder?

      • Rocksy

        Do you mean ‘contemptuous’?
        I take this issue very seriously. I am contemptuous of the people responsible for safeguarding our borders. I refer to elected officials, public servants and border guards, the people who show complete disregard for the culture and laws of the UK. If those who have been given charge of UK borders, discharged their responsibilities properly, this problem wouldn’t arise.

  • Radford_NG

    This event is the nadir of the immigration policy of government,largely supported by the Spectator ( whether they were employed legally or not).

    We are told there are jobs the native born British wont do.So,who was doing these jobs 10 years ago?There was a holistic system in place for generations,perhaps hundreds of years,by which casual/seasonal jobs were available for the lower orders.To name some of these: Gypsies;Irish tinkers;new age travellers;hippy-anarchists.These have been victims of the open door policy.These have been pushed out by foreign labour who can be exploited by such methods as amount to illegal *trucking*;which has been illegal since the C19th.These laws need enforcing.

    There is now a situation where the agencies which employ casual workers are now owned by East Europeans who are exploiting their own people.

    It is true farmers can hardly get native British/Irish to do the work now,but that is because the traditional system has been broken.

    • jason green

      “Lower orders”? What a lovely turn of phrase you have. And coming from Radford, Nottingham, you must consider yourself to be very highbrow.

      • Radford_NG

        Web name goes back to holding two fingers up to the Spectator for a `knocking `article from a member of the higher orders who walked around the district one wet winters night.

    • Radford_NG

      I now read in Wikpedia:

      Such laws go back to 1464.

      Trucking Acts banning `masters`paying in goods and service were passed in 1831/1887/1896/1940.They were repealed by an Act of 1986;updated 1996.

  • London Calling

    Getting people to work for their dole is a form of slavery, called work experience to the layman, however its degrading and only benefits the employee, who gets cheap labour,,,,,,,,,slavery is a blight on any society whatever shape it takes, lets hope we eradicate such practise in the UK……………..:)

    • Makroon

      And that sort of nonsense is exactly why there is unlikely to be cross-party support, Red believes in “wage slavery”, this clown thinks work experience is slavery ….

      • HookesLaw

        Furthermore anyone who can show a willingness and aptitude for real work will impress employers and have a better job prospect.
        But remember in terms of jobs we have created millions of new jobs in the sense of more workers in employment than ever, as well as the normal improvement of job levels following a recession. So why should there be people in long term unemployment?

    • gerontius

      “Getting people to work for their dole is a form of slavery”
      No it isn’t – you can refuse to work, a slave, by definition, cannot.

      • Swanky

        At the risk of being over-flippant, my hubby’s job feels almost like slavery at times. He can’t give it up and they don’t respect his time.

    • CortUK

      How can volunteering for work in return for money be slavery? Are you a Labour MP or something?

  • Daniel Maris

    I was appalled by the performance on radio this morning of the guy from the Gangmaster Agency – no wonder there have been hardly any prosecutions.

  • James Strong

    What will be made criminal by a Modern Anti-Slavery Bill that is not already criminal now?
    Until that is clarified I,for one, cannot accept that we need a new law. Just enforce the ones we’ve got.

    • jason green


      • gerontius


    • Daniel Maris

      We definitely need a Modern Anti-Slavery Act – with teeth.

      Amongst other things it needs to tackle:-

      Gang working.


      Servants travelling with foreigners.

      Sheds with beds.

      Illegal immigration.

      Sharia or other religious law judgements that back slavery.

      It must include mandatory severe jail terms for all slavers who are successfully prosecuted.

      The Act should establish an Anti-Slavery Agency with prosecutory powers and a mandate to completely eliminate slavery in this country.

      • In2minds

        You left out FGM

        • Radford_NG

          That has been illegal for over twenty years.

        • David Kay

          FGM is wounding with intent and carries a max life sentence. It just the Police and CPS dont bring charges or prosecute.

          As the first poster said, we dont need new laws, just enforce the existing ones

          • Martin Adamson

            Not a single successful prosecution in 20 years, although there must be tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers who know that it is going on.

        • Daniel Maris

          Actually the more I think about it, the more I think there is a strong argument for a single agency to take on all these alien practices that are so damaging our culture: slavery, illegal working, forced marriage, honour killing, sexual exploitation, FGM, corrupt electoral practices.

          • crosscop

            The single agency you mention should, in my opinion, be named the Alien Repatriation Department.

      • HookesLaw

        Everything you mention is as far as I can see already illegal.

        • Daniel Maris

          Yep, but there are no mandatory minimum sentences – or only very weak ones and there is no agency with the brief to eliminate slavery.

    • Chris lancashire

      Absolutely correct. The Police and the prosecuting authorities have a good armoury if they choose to use it. Too often new legislation achieves only marginal gains but has the great advantage of letting politicians look as if they are doing something.

      • HookesLaw

        Well to be fair they are doing something – its just that they are forced to because of the inadequate reactions of the people you mention.

        • Chris lancashire

          That’s a bit of a circular argument isn’t it? Handing supposedly fresh powers to people who aren’t using the ones they already have won’t achieve much.

    • HookesLaw

      You are right for once. Unfortunately do gooders insist the police and local authorities spend their time persecuting motorists and William Roache

      • James Strong

        Really Hookey, you can’t even post agreement without a little dig.
        I’m right a lot more than once, and you are right on those occasions you agree with me.
        And on this occasion about motorists and William Roache too.