20 JUN 2019

Speech on Modern Slavery

John Howell (Henley) (Con)

Thank you, Mrs Main; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I will raise the situation of modern slavery in Nigeria, which the team should look at as an example of how the Modern Slavery Act is working. The attack on modern slavery is an international phenomenon, and we lead the world in setting the standards.

I mention Nigeria because I am the Prime Minister's trade envoy to Nigeria, so I happen to know the country and what is going on there very well. As a bit of background, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. By the middle of the decade, it will have in the region of 400 million people. It also has the largest number of people in modern slavery in Africa. Examples include women who are tricked into migrating for non-existent jobs and then left to work in brothels or forced to work for no wages and with no legal immigration status whatever.

It is not just women who are affected; the number of children affected is enormous. Some are forced to work as street vendors or beggars. Boys are forced to work in mines, stone quarries and domestic service. Nigeria has just under 1 million people who are trapped in modern slavery. It is an enormous number, which accounts for around 17% of the people trapped in modern slavery in Africa, where the total figure comes to around 7 million or 8 million people. That is an enormous number; we are not even the tip of the iceberg in this country.

The Nigerian Government like what they see in what we do. We are helping to tackle the problem of modern slavery by using the Department for International ​ Development budget in a number of ways. For example, the work with non-governmental organisations uses victims who have been rescued from modern slavery as good examples. Those victims talk to people about how evil it is and about how they can avoid getting trapped in it. That is such a powerful way of getting the message across, because those victims have actually suffered as a result of modern slavery, and such outreach goes down extremely well.

The British Government have taken a stance, putting about £16 million into Nigeria to help with this issue. That provides a number of bits of background. It is particularly concentrated in a place called Edo State, which sits at the crossroads of the people traffickers. I could go on and on about the people traffickers, but I will not.

On my last visit to Nigeria, I took a brief to tackle modern slavery with the Nigerian Government, and one of the companies I went to see was Unilever. Unilever acts in a number of sectors where one would expect modern slavery to exist—broadly, in the agricultural sector. I had a long chat with its representatives and saw the NGOs they were working with. It was a fantastic experience, because Unilever in Nigeria has eliminated modern slavery from not just its own activities but its entire supply chain. That has taken a big effort, so is worth looking at that as an example of how to go about things.

One of the great joys for me was talking to the NGOs that work in this area and that have helped to eradicate modern slavery. They, too, used people who had suffered to get the message across, which is a brilliant thing to have done. When I go back, I hope I will be able to capitalise on that. I hope Unilever's example has spread, because the company found not only that eradicating modern slavery was a great thing to do, but that being able to tell people that it no longer carried on in that way gave it an enormous competitive advantage in the marketplace.

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