I’m proud that the Co-operative Party’s Charter Against Modern Slavery was launched in Islington, that my council was integral to its formation, and that we were one of the first five councils to sign. I don’t think anyone involved would have foreseen how influential it would be, with over 100 councils adopting its measures and many more having their policy influenced by it. 

Four years on from the Charter’s launch, there’s been unprecedented water under the bridge politically, but one thing hasn’t changed and that is the importance we should all attach to tackling the evil of modern slavery. Utterly leaderless, this Government appears increasingly focused on finding and exploiting “wedge issues” which divide rather than unite. It is little wonder that the Queen’s Speech indicated that Government is set on whittling away hard-fought protections for the victims of modern slavery: people coerced into ‘county lines’ drug trafficking, those held in squalor and undertaking forced labour, those who are trapped in sexual abuse, and those in domestic servitude.  

Our work tackling modern slavery did not end with signing a Charter, important a symbol as that might be.  The Charter gave us an opportunity to review the way our council teams worked together. Our Adult Social Care and Children’s Social Care teams have been particularly alive to the threat and the reality of modern slavery. The latter has specialist workers for child sexual exploitation, gangs and youth violence, and missing young people, plus a multi-agency Integrated Gangs Team co-located in our local police station.  

One issue which has emerged from this partnership is that there were multiple ways of recording young people at risk of being caught up in County Lines drug-running – where children as young as 12 are exploited and sometimes enslaved to sell drugs in other towns and cities using dedicated mobile phones. These young people are often made to travel alone and stay in far-off and unfamiliar places, sometimes for days at a time – putting them at significant risk. In response, Islington Council has introduced a new hazard indicator on the Children Services’ recording system which enables young people at risk of involvement in County Lines to be identified more easily. 

Furthermore, in June 2021, we launched a 12-month pilot programme with LB Camden ( – which has been extended for another 12 months) – to undertake devolved Child National Referral Mechanism (NRM) decision making, formally held by the Single Competent Authority.  The purpose is to empower Local Authorities to make decisions about whether a child is a victim of modern slavery and to integrate this decision making into existing safeguarding structures. The pilot project brings decision making closer to the child and more aligned with the provision of local and needs-based support and any law enforcement responses required. The project is also being undertaken to improve the effectiveness and timeliness of NRM decision-making as a whole. The pilot has been nominated for a LGC Award 2022, which is taking place on Wednesday 20 July 2022.  

We haven’t stopped there. We hold a regular Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Board Meeting, which brings together directorates from across the council to address a range of related issues, and through the Council’s Progressive Procurement processes, we continue to ensure that those contracts where there is a risk of slavery are scrutinised and officers can be certain this harmful practice is eradicated. The council prepares annual reports on tackling modern-day slavery, keeping the pressure on the council and its partners to remain vigilant and never to show signs of complacency.  This importantly allows us to open a dialogue with contractors, thereby promoting their responsibilities and encouraging them to promote trade union activity as a way of safe-guarding workers. 

We continue to adapt our approach to combatting modern slavery as those who seek to profit out of human misery seek to evade law enforcement. We promise to do our bit. Let’s hope that the Government reflects on what an achievement the Modern Slavery Act was, and not as we fear, seek to unpick it.