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Anti-slavery Projects: Commonwealth

Volume 810: debated on Thursday 4 March 2021

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote anti-slavery projects throughout the Commonwealth

My Lords, slavery is not a relic of history. It remains embedded in communities and economies throughout the world. Not so long ago, in Liberia, I was in discussions with a development project officer in the north of the country, close to the Sierra Leone border. Liberia’s origins as an independent state are from resettled freed slaves from the United States in the 1800s, courtesy of the American Colonization Society. I was shocked, therefore, when the official calmly recounted that, as a young girl, his aunt had been captured by marauding tribesmen and taken into slavery in a neighbouring country, only to return home some years later, having travelled hundreds of miles to get there—apparently a matter-of-fact, everyday misadventure.

This debate confines itself to anti-slavery projects in the Commonwealth, focusing in the main on Asia and Africa. The continent of Africa is one of the regions where contemporary slavery is most rife. Slavery in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa exists among racial and cultural boundaries in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan. Slavery exists in other forms in parts of Ghana, Benin, Togo and Nigeria. Human trafficking and the enslavement of children as child soldiers and child labourers takes place from Togo, Benin and Nigeria to Gabon and Cameroon. According to Anti-Slavery International, modern-day slavery in Africa includes the exploitation of subjugate populations, even when their condition is not technically called slavery. To quote the society:

“People are sold like objects, forced to work for little or no pay and are at the mercy of their ‘employers’.”

Debt slavery or bonded labour is the most common method of enslavement, with more than 8 million people bonded to labour illegally. Some 90% of the practice in the world is prevalent mainly in south Asia, even though most countries in the region are party to the UN convention on the abolition of slavery. Bonded labour has produced goods ranging from frozen shrimp to bricks, diamonds and clothing. Estimates vary widely, with figures of between 20 million and 40 million workers, mainly children, working through debt bondage in India. Some 60,000 brick kiln workers are employed in south Asia, with 70% in India and the 6,000 or so kilns in Pakistan alone. Total revenue from brick kilns in south Asia is thought to be some $15 billion. The International Labour Organization estimates that more than $51 billion is made annually in the exploitation of workers through debt bondage. The fair trade industry, which claims to eradicate modern-day slavery, is estimated by some to exceed $2 billion annually, but that is only a fraction of the total revenue.

The excellent briefing note produced by the House of Lords estimates that there are some 16 million victims of modern slavery living in the Commonwealth, which equates to one in every 150 citizens. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the CHRI, in Delhi, stresses in its report Eradicating Modern Slavery that only 10 years remain to fulfil the London CHOGM commitment to meet SDG target 8.7 of ending modern slavery by 2030. The CHRI stresses that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in the system for protection and the vulnerability of those most at risk. The CHRI is calling on the Commonwealth Secretariat to take a lead in the interests of the 16 million Commonwealth citizens trapped in modern slavery.

At this point, it is worth stressing the scale of the task. According to the CHRI, of the 54 Commonwealth member states, only 29 have national guidelines on how to identify victims, 35 have criminalised forced labour and just 18 have criminalised forced marriage. All 54 have gaps in implementation. The Lords Library briefing notes that the CHRI claims there has been inadequate action by Commonwealth Governments, and that overall progress is far too slow. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on the CHRI claims.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Unit has responded to the 2018 London CHOGM call for effective measures to end modern slavery. It is working with member states’ missions in Geneva, the CHRI in Delhi and the UN special rapporteur on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery. The Commonwealth Secretariat’s strategic plan embeds the CHOGM mandate, committing it to protecting women, girls and other vulnerable groups in member states from violence and other harmful practices.

The Global Fund to End Modern Slavery recognises the UK as a global leader in the fight to end modern slavery, as a founding partner in creating the fund. It is undertaking innovative work throughout the Commonwealth, including in India, Bangladesh, Kenya and Uganda. It has called for a reassessment of how the UK can lead an increase in global collaboration and resourcing to prevent a huge surge in modern slavery as the pandemic ends.

The CPA UK’s four-year multilateral modern slavery project, funded by the UK, provides a welcome signpost. The project aims to strengthen democracy, parliamentary oversight and sustainability in the Commonwealth. It aims to equip, enable and encourage partners and their members to make positive impacts in three crucial areas: public accounts committees, women in parliament and climate security. The CPA UK’s work plans to support good governance and stimulate parliamentary activity in areas of inclusive and representative democracy, effective scrutiny and accountability.

The assessment of the UK’s approach to tackling modern slavery through the aid programme by the Independent Commission on Aid Impact takes us a stage further. Under the guidance of the commissioner, Sir Hugh Bayley, the ICAI report of October 2020 assessed that the Government played a prominent role in raising the profile of modern slavery globally, but that our work in developing countries had limited long-term impact, did not build on existing international efforts and experience, and failed to adequately involve survivors. Overall, the ICAI assessment was amber-red.

The ICAI set out its findings in detail, together with a list of five recommendations, three of which the Government accept and a further two they partially accept. This is a heartening response from the Government, stressing their commitment to defeating slavery. Investment in the Modern Slavery Innovation Fund has been reviewed, and confirmation sought that it is working in sectors and with partners in ways that are known to make a difference. The Government confirm that UK aid is governed by the International Development Act, which places a duty to promote gender equality through development and humanitarian funding in countries receiving aid.

The Government accept that they need to do more to engage survivors in the design, implementation and review of the programmes in their modern slavery portfolio. The Government agree that a public statement will help to explain better their international modern slavery objectives, which they plan to take forward and set out this year. With just 10 years left to meet the SDG goal, will the Government strengthen their leadership in the global effort to support the work of the CPA UK, ring-fencing this and other anti-slavery funding from cuts to the aid budget?

My Lords, I thank my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for arranging this debate. It is absolutely necessary in this situation, as we come out of the pandemic.

Many in the developing countries of the Commonwealth have suffered hugely during the pandemic and have been persuaded by traffickers to let their children go and be sold, with false promises of work; body parts are stolen, such as kidneys, eyes and others. People who are involved in slavery never recover and never have a long life.

The Commonwealth must commit to following the money. We know through the McCain Institute, the Global Fund and others that this is a cash industry, and the cash trail can be followed if the will is there. In many cases, as I have mentioned before, the money is offshore, and it is for us as a leading country—we are seen as seventh or eighth in the global economy, and we are at every table—to exert pressure so that cash from trafficking is followed and the traffickers are taken and sentenced. They should be sentenced to prison for what they are doing to those whom they take away. I call on the Government to persuade Commonwealth countries and the Commonwealth to follow the money.

My Lords, the Commonwealth charter tells us that

“Parliaments … are essential elements in the exercise of democratic governance.”

The Commonwealth Heads of Government say they are committed to ending modern slavery by 2030, but, alas, progress is very slow. It is therefore essential that Governments are held accountable by their Parliaments, constantly and unremittingly. As a former chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I believe that the CPA is the network by which MPs throughout the Commonwealth can draw strength and encouragement to discuss these issues frankly, which is often the better way, and informally, and to identify means to confront them.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, was right to refer to the CPA UK Modern Slavery Project as a practical example of how this evil can be exposed and curbed. However, if we are to eradicate modern slavery in all its forms, it is a campaign that needs many more hours than one of debate devoted to it.

My Lords, it is somehow fitting that Commonwealth Day and International Women’s Day fall on the same date; there is much to celebrate jointly. I am in no doubt that, in the post-Brexit world, where there continues to be much confusion, an alliance as old and trusted as the Commonwealth has much to offer. All countries need friends and allies, and the UK has a ready-made community of 53 nations around the world, which is a precious asset and one to be nurtured.

As noble Lords have already heard, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, of which I am a long-term and proud member, is addressing issues of current concern such as modern slavery, women in Parliament, climate change and the seemingly less important topic of public accounts committees. Never have I been more impressed than when talking with a group of women parliamentarians, convened by the CPA and all members of their respective public accounts committees, who were making real differences in countering corruption, raising the standards of accountability and providing a clear model for what other women can achieve. In these practical workshops the CPA continues to provide an invaluable role and contributes to a change of culture around the world.

My Lords, anti-slavery has been a major focus of the Church of England through the Clewer Initiative in this country and through many of our links across the Anglican Communion in Commonwealth countries, where partnership is the key to effective work.

The Anglican Alliance has raised a number of questions and initiatives at United Nations level, but the most powerful agents of change are rooted in local communities in some of the most vulnerable places. It seems to be very important that we hold together the high-level conversations along with local initiatives, where the local networks are often key to the effective rooting-out or identification of perpetrators of modern slavery. I ask the Minister if the Government can use their powers to work in partnership at every level to eradicate this scourge?

My Lords, development projects are essential to tackling slavery. It is therefore shameful and inhumane that, at this time when more and more boys and girls—particularly girls—around the world could be drawn into slavery because of economic conditions created by the pandemic, the UK is going to brutally reduce the amount of money available for humanitarian projects that empower and educate young women and boys and support refugees.

However, the UK can also support projects that ensure enforcement, as my noble friend Lady Goudie has said. I ask the Minister what action we will take to ensure that there is stronger enforcement at the national, regional and international level to have more prosecutions of those organising slavery and those who assist them?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on securing this debate ahead of Commonwealth Day on 8 March. The theme for this year’s Commonwealth Day is “Delivering a common future: connecting, innovating and transforming”. Clearly, promoting anti-slavery projects is central to this and a real challenge of our age.

It is dreadful to realise that there are over 40 million victims of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking worldwide, and that this number is growing. Our own Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has been active, and, between 2016 and 2020, delivered a four-year project funded by the United Kingdom Government, providing advice and support to Commonwealth legislatures in the pursuit of combating modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour. This is a good thing.

If I could single out one particular project that the UK is backing, it is the attempt to end forced labour in clothing factories in Bangladesh. This is most worthwhile.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has a way of highlighting issues which concern the very poorest, and we must be grateful to him because the Commonwealth as an institution needs much more focus and visibility.

While I was on the anti-slavery council I became aware of appalling examples of slavery and trafficking, including among the victims of the caste system which persists in India today. Since then, an enormous amount has been done to ensure that we in the UK are not benefiting from supply chains that exploit those victims, especially child slaves.

The Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, in her lecture last year, said that half the world’s victims of slavery live in the Commonwealth and called for more UK action on child trafficking. ICAI is not pleased, as we have heard, and the CHRI has a programmed tied to SDG 8.7, which means ending child labour by 2025—there is a challenge. I put my faith in NGOs and faith groups, but civil society has a huge potential to bring about change.

My Lords, heinous acts of slavery go back a long way, perpetrated by power and carried out by persecution. We have redefined slavery in modern terms but it still involves power and persecution in many different forms, and it exists in developed countries such as the UK.

I am pleased that many UK-funded organisations, such as DfID and the CPA, are funding and developing projects to combat modern slavery, including support at government level and, essentially, as the right reverend Prelate said, at grass-roots level, involving NGOs and community projects. I congratulate the many NGOs that are working on the ground, often in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances, to combat many kinds of slavery involving local populations.

Can the Minister say briefly how programmes supported by the UK are monitored and evaluated for their impact on the lives of victims of modern slavery? I look forward to his response.

My Lords, if we are to try to stop people entering into modern slavery, what encouragement is coming from the Government to make sure people know what is liable to happen to them if they place themselves in debt bondage or the hands of human traffickers? This can be done only by targeted information in the country of origin of such people. Is it being done in a way that they will receive it? What is the strategy for using social media and local broadcasters?

Without targeting the direct options, and saying where people are lied to and where the problems lie, we will not see people remove themselves from such situations. We may not be able to do anything about people being coerced into these situations but we might be able to slow down the numbers of those who think that they are doing it for good economic reasons.

My Lords, I speak as a very proud executive member of our own UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association here at Westminster. As we celebrate Commonwealth Day next Monday, we must take special note of its work fostering relationships and sharing experiences and challenges, which of course includes the fight against slavery. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has, since 1911, brought together the Parliaments of the Commonwealth to better understand and learn from each other.

The UK has been a global leader in the fight to end modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. In 2017, the UK Government became a founding partner in creating the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. Since then, they have been able to leverage the initial UK investment more than fourfold by securing complementary investments from other Governments. Last year, the UK Government published their first modern slavery statement, outlining the steps that the Government have taken to tackle modern slavery in UK operations and supply chains.

I urge the Government to continue to support the eradication of slavery, and I very much look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s response on further promoting anti-slavery throughout the Commonwealth.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have competed at the Commonwealth Games and I am a trustee of the Commonwealth Sport Foundation. CSF is a new charity that has a number of work pillars, including historical injustice, equal rights and youth empowerment.

The Commonwealth is a third of the world’s population and has a significant number of modern slavery issues. It is exciting that, next year, the Commonwealth Games will be held in Birmingham. The organising committee is committed to this issue, and it is something that I hope further major games will also take on board through their processes.

We should continue to explore the role that the Commonwealth Games Federation, the Commonwealth Sports Foundation and each host city has to educate the athletes, coaches and spectators on this important issue in order not just to broaden the understanding of modern slavery but to identify it and to find solutions.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the deputy chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation. In this extremely short contribution, I will simply make a practical suggestion regarding modern slavery in supply chains—something we should be clamping down on. My noble friend should look into what the US has done to try to remedy this in respect of what it calls “hot goods”, that is to say goods that are produced by forced labour. They have the following clause in their legislation:

“All goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in any foreign country by convict labor or/and forced labor or/and indentured labor under penal sanctions shall not be entitled to entry at any of the ports of the United States, and the importation thereof is hereby prohibited”.

This seems a very useful idea, and perhaps something that we could still insert in the Trade Bill.

My Lords, I support that suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Randall; it is a good idea. I declare my interest as a trustee of the charity Arise, which I thank for its briefing.

Can the Government commit to a modern slavery strategy in Commonwealth countries that ensures that support focuses on empowering and building the capacity of local civil society groups, such as local police, religious sisters and local government? Just one example would be the Indian-Nepalese border, which is one of the most prolific corridors for human trafficking in the world. In 2018, it was estimated that 50 women alone were trafficked into India a day, and 2,500 children trafficked annually into Bihar, one of five Indian states bordering Nepal. Horrifically, most of these children are headed for the brothels in India.

We should prioritise partnerships that empower and strengthen local communities, which are best placed to ensure sustainable change and to identify victims. It is hard for Governments to prioritise these groups, but we should prioritise building their capacity and commit to supporting small-scale sustainable efforts to end this horrific crime, since they are usually the best catalyst for real and lasting change.

My Lords, I will talk about the UK—it is part of the Commonwealth, so I think I am allowed. I was approached by somebody, though only once before coronavirus stopped any further conversation, about the fact that there are people who came here to the UK illegally and are subject to rather severe exploitation. I am sorry that that person did not come back to me, but they made a request as to whether some sort of amnesty could be declared for people who may have entered the UK in that way. They would gain by handing themselves up to the authorities, rather than suffering as they do right now. I do not know whether this is part of the debate at present but I signed up to speak to make sure that it was declared here. I am very happy to talk to the Minister outside the Grand Committee.

I call the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Lord Roberts, you are on mute; can you unmute? We will come back to the noble Lord at the end if we can.

My Lords, could the Minister say whether there is support in the Government for the calls from the Arise Foundation, a charity of which I am a trustee, for mandatory human rights due diligence and mandatory transparency guidelines through company supply chains?

Building on the UK’s landmark 2015 legislation, and in the spirit of William Wilberforce, we should be spearheading a global Commonwealth campaign to combat modern-day slavery. This should include educational projects to liberate the children of India’s enslaved Dalits and Adivasis, condemned to work in kilns and sweat shops. It could include kite marking of supply chains so that consumers can say no to big brands using African child slaves to mine lithium in the DRC. It could include a Commonwealth-wide boycott of cotton products made by enslaved Uighur labour in Xinjiang. It could also hunt down and fearlessly prosecute the criminals who ruthlessly traffic women and girls.

Almost a third of the world’s population—2.2 billion people—live in Commonwealth countries. By mobilising its people against modern slavery, the Commonwealth could both demonstrate its values and give hope to millions of benighted and downtrodden people.

My Lords, I go to the typically excellent House of Lords Library briefing for the estimate that 40% of the total number of victims of modern slavery live in the Commonwealth. Not being “political”, it did not make the obvious comparison: only 33% of the world’s population live in the Commonwealth. We have an outsized, disgraceful modern slavery problem in an institution for which we as a nation have a particular responsibility.

Where did the Commonwealth come from? It grew essentially out of the Empire, whose disastrous, genocidal, ecocidal impacts have been buried, hidden and all too often forgotten about. The thesis I put to the Minister is that colonialism and modern slavery are inextricably linked, and tackling the current scourge requires exposing the dark history to the light. Last year, I asked the Minister whether the Government would consider an inquiry into particularly the legacies of African enslavement. I got a one-sentence “no” answer. Will the Minister now reconsider?

My Lords, the task of adding to this debate in just a minute seems almost impossible so I will keep my remarks just to two questions. First, the anti-slavery work is funded by a number of UK government departments and funds. Can my noble friend say how co-ordinated are the work and the funds across, for a start, the Home Office and the FCDO, but also any other departments that may be involved? Secondly, how do the Government reconcile their strongly held commitment to anti-slavery with their less than enthusiastic support for the genocide amendment that has now been proposed in both Houses in a number of Bills to tackle the appalling treatment of the Uighurs in China?

Nothing causes more slavery in its consequences than war. One thing we can do is to try to reduce the armaments sold to nations that will then go on to slaughter one another. We know, for instance, that in Yemen we now have 8.4 million people on the brink of slavery and starvation. We see that the UK has now decided to cut its aid budget to Yemen from £164 million to £87 million, while at the same time selling about £638 million-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, the other country in this dispute. Is there not something we can do to stop ourselves from this trade? Is there not a William Wilberforce now in the Cabinet?

My Lords, I commend my noble friend Lord Chidgey for bringing this debate to the Grand Committee and commend the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK. I declare an interest in that I supported the CPA’s anti-forced labour project here in the Westminster Parliament and in Ghana. I also declare that I support a project in Sudan and the Horn of Africa, linking in with the Gulf, on human trafficking and forced labour.

Because time is so constrained, I make two points and ask two questions of the Minister. First, the inevitable consequences of Covid mean that the scope for forced labour and trafficking is greatly increased, with the increase in the number of vulnerable women and children, especially those working in markets or domestic labour. Therefore, the unlawful cuts to the UK’s ODA are very regrettable. Secondly, there have been attempts in the Trade Bill to persuade the Government to move on supply chains—in fact, I raised this in our most recent deliberations on that Bill—and I hope that the Government think again.

I have two quick questions, building on one of the points that my noble friend Lord Chidgey asked. Will the Government use their convening power for all Commonwealth countries to work so there is a consistency of definition and application of forced labour legislation? Secondly, will the UK use its chair-in-office transition to Rwanda to make sure that this continues to be a priority area, including for Governments and traditional forms of government and traditional leaders? The convening power of the Commonwealth is to its credit and something that we can ensure goes forward with the new presidency, so there is no gap in any programme that we have discussed today.

My Lords, just to pick up the last point by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in relation to the UK’s investment in the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, it has galvanised political support for legislation in the Commonwealth. I hope that the Minister this afternoon will be able to commit to ongoing work in that regard.

I pick up on a couple of points on domestic legislation, particularly in relation to the supply chain. Dominic Raab, in his Statement on China in January, set out steps on forced labour under the Modern Slavery Act. I therefore ask about progress on those steps and, in particular, in relation to fines for failing transparency obligations. When will we see the necessary legislation? On the extension of transparency requirements to the public sector, when will we see the guidance from the FCDO and Cabinet Office in that regard?

Finally, what is the Minister’s assessment of the impact of the ODA reduction to 0.5% on programmes that encourage anti-slavery legislation across the Commonwealth? How will the Government lead on that priority subject at the CHOGM in Rwanda?

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for tabling this debate and all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord. We have worked together on various issues relating to the Commonwealth, and it is important that we throw a spotlight on this important issue. I agree with my noble friend Lord Haselhurst that one hour was not enough, but I have very much valued the constructive discussions, suggestions and proposals, as well as the questions put today.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, talked of reviving the spirit of William Wilberforce. It is not lost on me that, on every walk past my home to the local village, I pass a sign that says, “William Wilberforce lived here”. It is perhaps apt that a politician who led our country, Theresa May, herself a Wimbledonian, led the campaign domestically to raise the issue of modern slavery, and continues to champion this cause—and I shall continue to work with the right honourable lady in this respect.

Modern slavery is one of those great human rights tragedies of our time; it is an incredibly complex issue that targets the most vulnerable, as we have heard, and Covid-19 has only made things worse. I listened very carefully to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about focusing on support for victims both domestically and abroad, and I shall come on to that in a moment. It is right that we build on what we have learned, be it domestically or through international partners and ensure that this is shared throughout the Commonwealth, also ensuring that those who employ child labour and engage in modern slavery as we term it are held to account and educated in their role in tackling this scourge. A scourge it is, which is why it remains a major priority for the UK Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested a series of steps and in doing so highlighted the opportunities that exist to do so much more. In the time I have I cannot address every specific question or suggestion that he and other noble Lords raised, but I will focus on some of them. I will come back to noble Lords, and I look forward to further discussions, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, suggested, to take various points forward outside this Committee.

It was not customary to hear a contribution from my noble friend Lady Warsi in a minute, but she was nevertheless succinct in asking quite specific questions on governance. I assure her that the Home Office and the FCDO work together regularly at ministerial level and between officials. We are looking at all our programmes across government for further support in this respect. We have appointed both domestic and international envoys to take this forward; there are well-established channels in this respect. My noble friend also mentioned the genocide amendment and supply chains, which I will come on to in a moment.

I pay tribute to and agree in totality with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. The Commonwealth Games provide an incredible opportunity for us to take forward the issues of child labour and modern slavery, but also the benefits that the Commonwealth can bring in working together.

Looking at the Commonwealth and the world as a whole, in 2016 global estimates on modern slavery found that just over 40 million people were victims of modern slavery on any given day somewhere in the world. Of these, 24.9 million people were forced into labour and 15.4 million were living in a forced marriage. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, reminded us, one in four were children, and 71% were women. I know that that is a particular focus for the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie. Commonwealth citizens accounted for almost 25 million of that global figure.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that there is so much still to be done to strengthen the work of the Commonwealth, particularly with CHOGM on the horizon and our role in handing over the chairmanship to Rwanda. I assure the noble Lord that I am working very closely with the Rwandan Government. Indeed, only today I spoke to Foreign Minister Biruta about various issues, including the planning for CHOGM later this year.

The International Labour Organization estimates that trade in human beings is worth $150 billion per year, yet just 0.08% of that amount is spent by OECD countries annually on development assistance targeting slavery. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, highlighted the importance of continuing programmes and funding to tackle this, from the perspective not just of the UK but of how we leverage international funding. The sheer staggering scale of human suffering this represents is frankly, bluntly, and, to put it in a very personal way, shameful. There is no other word for it.

Tackling modern slavery was an important part of the Government’s manifesto in 2019 and I assure noble Lords that it will continue to form part of our integrated strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about the legacy of our colonial past, the Commonwealth’s future and specific inquiries. I respect her contribution, but we should also celebrate and recognise the strength of what the Commonwealth is today in 2021. We are learning from our past and our experiences. On a personal note, as someone who has heritage from India and Pakistan, whose wife grew up in Australia, and who now looks after our relationships with south Asia, it is a reflection of the strides we are making not just in government but across society that people enriched by their Commonwealth heritage contribute to the United Kingdom’s progress today.

The new FCDO brings together diplomatic and development expertise. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds talked about the importance of civil society and faith groups. I assure him that, since the creation of the FCDO, I have initiated regular round-table discussions with our faith partners, who are involved directly in humanitarian aid delivery and development programmes, including tackling child labour across different parts of the world.

It is not acceptable that crimes such as modern slavery still exist in the 21st century—I totally agree with noble Lords on that—but the short fact is that they do. As a long-standing champion of the need to tackle the global scourge of modern slavery, including within the Commonwealth, we will continue to play our part. That is why I am proud of the fact that we led on addressing this with our Modern Slavery Act back in 2015.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, talked of the importance of different roles and the creation of the role of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner. Internationally, we successfully led the way in 2015 by developing and championing the inclusion in the sustainable development goals of a specific target to end modern slavery, which is SDG Target 8.7. However, there is so much still to be done.

At the UN General Assembly, alongside the UN Secretary-General, we launched A Call to Action to End Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. This is a strong statement of intent that we will not tolerate modern slavery in our societies. I led the UK campaign in 2018, ahead of the CHOGM in London, to obtain commitments to, and gather endorsements for, the call to action by Commonwealth countries. My noble friend Lord Davies talked of what has been achieved. I can inform him that the call to action, led by the United Kingdom, has to date received 92 endorsements, which is nearly half of all UN members; included within them are 27 Commonwealth countries. In 2018, we committed to more than doubling, to £200 million, our ODA support that is targeted at tackling the root causes of slavery and exploitation.

Many projects exist across the Commonwealth and I will share just a few with noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about effectiveness. The Work in Freedom programme helps to prevent trafficking and exploitation of women working in domestic households and garment factories across south Asia and the Middle East. Bangladesh was mentioned by noble Lords, and that specific programme has so far reached over 470,000 women and girls, including in India and Bangladesh. I know that my noble friend Lord Bourne was very focused on what has been achieved there.

The Inclusion, Accountability and Reducing Modern Slavery Programme in Pakistan raises community awareness on issues of early and forced marriage, and child labour. It supports 450 Aagahi Centres that work on cases of modern slavery, and strengthens government systems within Pakistan for protecting individuals. Meanwhile the Stamping Out Slavery in Nigeria programme is supporting a coalition of actors, including the Government and local civil society, in tackling modern slavery there.

The CPA was rightly mentioned by others, including the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. I have met and engaged directly with the leadership of the CPA over recent months, including looking at the specific issue of public accounts and the crucial role that the CPA continues to play through its network of 32 parliamentary champions in improving anti-slavery legislation.

We also recognise the crucial role of business. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded to this, as did the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and others. Championing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights is all about responsible business and transparency in global supply chains. Despite the significant economic and health challenges faced by the UK due to the global pandemic and, yes, the challenges we faced on the reduction of ODA, I assure noble Lords that we remain one of the leading aid donors. We also remain committed to using UK support and aid to help tackle modern slavery and human trafficking.

Many other countries within the Commonwealth are taking big steps: India, Australia, Canada, Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia, to name a few. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, will be interested specifically in the work that we are doing in these countries. Yet the global community, as many noble Lords recognised, is still not on track to meet the challenges in addressing this issue by 2030—and Covid-19 has not helped. We certainly adapted our £20 million global fund to end modern slavery to contribute to the humanitarian cause for garment factory workers and migrants in south-east Asia as Covid-19 hit. Let me also inform noble Lords that we provided a £250,000 grant to the Freedom Fund for its emergency relief. However, we must do well and I assure all noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the right reverend Prelate that we continue to strengthen our work—not just as government to government or with businesses, but with charities, faith groups and civil society.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, among others, pointed to the ICAI report. We have accepted three recommendations fully and two others in part. We continue to work closely with ICAI in this respect. I take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said about how we can look in-country. As the Covid-19 challenge lifts, I hope that through visits we will be able to look to in-country programmes, including those that he suggested with organisations such as the police, to see how we can strengthen internal mechanisms across the Commonwealth.

In the short time that he had, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, among others, including the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and my noble friend Lord Randall made practical suggestions on the strengthening of supply chains. Yes, we have made announcements. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked a series of questions in this respect. If I may, I will revert to him in writing on the specifics, but work is under way through the FCDO and the Home Office on many of the questions that he raised.

We hope that the next Global Conference on Child Labour, to be held in South Africa in 2022, will be a further opportunity to unite Commonwealth countries, as CHOGM will be. This year, as many noble Lords will know, marks the UN International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour, which provides yet another important opportunity.

I fear that I am one who has perhaps betrayed the clock by running some 30 seconds over my allocated time. However, given the strength and quality of the practical insights provided by noble Lords, this will continue to be a focus for the Government, and an area that we will return to in future. Only by joining forces and working together will we be able to eradicate these crimes. We have heard about Wilberforce, but it was Kipling who urged us to

“fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”.

I believe today’s contributions have done that.

Sitting suspended.