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Fighting or fuelling forced labour? The Modern Slavery Act 2015, irregular migrants and the vulnerabilising role of the UK’s hostile environment

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Publication details

JournalCritical Social Policy
DatePublished - 14 Mar 2020
Number of pages26
Original languageEnglish


Abolishing ‘modern slavery’ has now achieved international policy consensus. The most recent UK initiative – the 2015 Modern Slavery Act (MSA) – includes amongst other aspects tougher prison sentencing for perpetrators and the creation of an independent anti-slavery commissioner to oversee its implementation. However, drawing on research into forced labour among people seeking asylum in England, this article argues that when considered alongside the UK government’s deliberate creation of a ‘hostile environment’ towards migrants, not least in the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016, state action to outlaw modern slavery is flawed, counter-productive and disingenuous. We show how the MSA focuses only on the immediate act of coercion between ‘victim’ and ‘criminal’, ignoring how the hostile state vulnerabilises migrants in ways that compel their entry into and continued entrapment within severe labour exploitation.

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