A Discussion with Kevin Hyland on Human Trafficking

With: Kevin Hyland Berkley Center Profile

February 3, 2024

Background: Kevin Hyland works to raise the priority of human trafficking within the United Nations and other global fora and has from his early career as a police officer in London worked to draw on the moral and practical leadership of religious organizations and especially the Catholic Church. This discussion with Katherine Marshall took place in Washington DC on February 3, 2024.

Hyland is a founding member of the Santa Marta Group, a high-level strategic partnership linking international law enforcement agencies, governments, the Catholic Church, and all faiths and civil society. Launched in the presence of Pope Francis at the Vatican in April 2014, the Group brings together a diverse partnership focused on human trafficking. Hyland is today the Senior Special Advisor and Strategic Director. In this discussion, Hyland describes how he became involved in work against trafficking as a London police officer for 30 years, and how he came to engage with religious communities in the effort. He also outlines what he sees as vital elements for a global effort (ideally within the context of the G20) to address the challenges in ways that can bring it to a near end.

The most important role of the state is the safety of citizens and people. The human right of people and their protection is the delivery of justice, and an equal and equitable society.
What we have found is that faith-based organizations, within their members, have a network of access, which if utilized for good can be absolutely incredible.

Generally speaking, governments and local authorities are very, very poor at prevention, because how do you count prevention?

Pope Francis is truly the highest moral leader in the world.

I think that the G20 Interfaith Forum is the ideal vehicle to do that in two ways. First, it's running alongside the powerful G20. And second, because the eradication of human trafficking is a duty of faith. It's a duty of people of good will. Thus it's a natural fit in the two tracks there.

How did you get into the trafficking business?

I come from an Irish immigrant family to the UK (I was born in England, but Irish; my parents moved back to Ireland eventually, as did I with my family when we were older). I grew up in North London and went to both state and Catholic, Jesuit schools, and at a young age I joined the military in the UK. I progressed from the Army, where I was working on special investigations and different things within the Royal Military Police, to join the London Police, the Metropolitan Police. There very quickly I was identified and selected as a detective (normally you had to be complete two years even to be considered to work in the criminal investigation department).

I worked as a detective, in London, and was then transferred to Devon and Cornwall and Birmingham, and was promoted along the way. I was then asked to return to London from the West Midlands to work on anti-corruption. That was very intense work. My previous work had been investigating murders, rapes, gun crime, all sorts of high-pressure crime, but anti-corruption was different. You are looking at things that the rest of the police force can't know about. The corruption then mostly involved police officers, but also government officials, military, and organized criminals, because they're the ones who want to corrupt the police. I did some very high-level work, some that involved intelligence around anti-terrorist work, some that involved police officers, either acting as agents to break into criminal investigations, to corrupt them, to stop them, or they might be doing something for a business to get business advantage: maybe hacking the phones of other businesses or getting data from their computers. I worked then across the United States, quite extensively with the FBI, and in other parts of the world like Singapore and Europe.

Thus, I began to be really involved in international crime at a very high level of organized crime, as a London police officer. The work was not, however, restricted to London, as the groups and issues went across the UK and the world.

The vice unit in London would occasionally look at trafficking. There was also an operation in London airports, and I was asked by a senior colleague in Scotland Yard to help set up a trafficking unit by developing the vice team. I saw that there were a lot of things being done that were not up to modern standards. Nothing was illegal or wrong, but it would open itself up to challenges in court and left officers vulnerable even if it was not their fault. So, I restructured that unit. I had to retrain officers, get officers detective courses, get officers surveillance trained. Within 18 months it was recognized as the best in the world at dealing with trafficking: it had gone from dealing with one or two trafficking cases a year to hundreds and saw the convictions of scores of traffickers.

What kinds of traffickers?

Sex trafficking, forced labor, domestic servitude, forced criminality. The operations we ran went as far as India. For one operation we had to set up a courtroom in India linked to the old Bailey in London, the first time it had ever been done. In another case the traffickers were operating from Thailand to Romania, from Romania to Belgium, from Belgium to London. There were assets in Thailand, and I remember people saying, “you'll never get that money back”. We got it back. We made an agreement with the Thai authorities around an international agreement about money laundering, and they supported it. We got the money back and that brought the criminals down. Importantly, I set up a team focusing purely on the victims. This was a crucial element of the work: specialist trained officers in victim care and interviewing. I also ensured they had all the up-to-date equipment. This allowed evidence to be recorded remotely from police premises, thus significantly reducing the burden on a victim.

How did this work evolve?

At the time, there was a lot of mistrust between us and some of the non-government organizations (NGOs). But one NGO—the Poppy Project--that we dealt with on trafficked women allowed us to have officers in their office. Two female officers used to spend time in their offices. They would meet the victims and explain what the process would mean if they engaged with the statutory agencies. It went from no women engaging to almost all women engaging, because once they understood the processes, particularly in the UK where there is good, binding legislation about victim care, they were willing. Knowing what is required under law and is mandatory made a crucial difference.

That was how I managed to get things moving, because I knew what was crucial and I knew what had to be done.

How did you link to the work of religious communities?

During this time, I began to realize that faith groups, many of them, were doing lots of work on this issue—especially the Catholic community, which have the Catholic Religious Sisters. They had pivoted into this area of work for a long time. When I was looking at partners, one group that came to see me was a church in Portland Street in London, right near Regents Park, with a very big congregation. The church was not Catholic and had been working with a group of Catholic religious sisters in West London. This group were working modestly on trafficking issues. What the sisters were doing was to use their connections and welfare visits to identify premises where women were being exploited, in Kensington and Chelsea. Many of these were in multi-million-pound premises--millionaires row. They would go in at safe times and make sure the women there were safe, identify the ones who were at really high risk, and then try and work with them to leave and to engage with the authorities. There was no requirement for the sisters to do that—the sisters just wanted to look after their safety, it was their charism to care for vulnerable women.

We began working with the organization in Portland Street. A big problem in central London around that time (it's not the issue now because of online) was the advertising of sexual services, particularly in telephone boxes, which is an offense in the UK. They would go out with our support, as the police, and clear all the telephone boxes early on a Saturday morning. This started off with a handful of people. We would then take all these adverts, scan them for intelligence, and look for the potential high-risk ones. We could examine these against our databases, so we could see which were the traffickers that needed to be investigated. We had an event on a Saturday morning in the church in Portland Place; we expected 20 people to turn up but 130 came. We went into an operational deployment and managed to clear the whole of Westminster of these adverts The London Mayor's office thought this was great, as the Deputy Mayor for Policing had played a pivotal role in the introduction of legislation to ban these adverts. From that activity, we were able to identify traffickers. We went out with the charities, so when we were raiding premises, we'd have a system where the victims or potential victims could be taken somewhere very comfortable, very safe. It was a good model that worked effectively and efficiently.

We identified many cases in that way, but one stands out: a Russian trafficking group. We had religious sisters and the faith groups working with us. They had identified the high-risk premises We conducted surveillance, and other policing activities. We did what we are allowed, trained, and empowered to do. From the collective work, we were able to identify other evidence such as where their safety deposit boxes were, where the women were, where the victims and the suspects lived. And we did the raids on a Saturday morning at five am (because there'd be less people around from the community, so we could be more under the radar). The religious sisters came with us. We did a raid at a place in Earl's Court where we assisted a number of women to leave the premises. We had a nice vehicle for them, a minibus to take them to a safe environment. One woman, she said she was a woman, was spitting at police officers, angry. And I remember the police officers coming up to me and saying, "Sir, should we arrest her or what?" I said, "No, no, let's deal with her as a victim." And the sisters, in their way, coaxed her into the vehicle, and took her back to their center. This was the women’s first experience of the police, and they probably didn't even realize that two of the women in the vehicle were police officers, albeit they would disclose when they arrived that they were police; the others were religious sisters and NGOs. This was like about 6:00 in the morning. By midday, we knew, because this girl had told us, that she was 15, and she'd only just been trafficked into the UK a few days before, and that she'd been raped several times that morning, hence her behavior. We then were able to get the traffickers. The case and convictions got headlines and the traffickers got very long periods in prison. That collaborative work was tangible and improved the lives of so many and prevented this gang from future exploitation.

The 2012 London Olympics saw a focus on sex and other trafficking. How were you involved?

There was a perception that during the Olympics, the police would be out there arresting women in prostitution in the streets, to make London look nice. That perception did have some reality to it; it wouldn't have been my teams doing this because we were central, looking at more serious crimes, but the local teams may have felt that there was pressure to do that. I brought in a policy, operating across London, that women working on the streets in prostitution leading up to and during the Olympics and Paralympics, and for a short period afterwards, would not be subject to arrest. We set up a center at a religious sisters’ house, a big house in King's Cross. We had the National Health Service and NGOs there, people from the Jewish faith, people of no religion, and social workers. The women were diverted there, so the police would take them to that place, as opposed to an arrest. If somebody wouldn't go there, which never happened, then you would have to come up with some alternative. My advice was to tell them to go home. If somebody was problematic, arrest was the very last option.

During and up to the Olympics, starting two years before, we developed a plan based around the building sites of the Olympics, and in relation to wares to be sold, all the paraphernalia that goes with an Olympic Games. We conducted an operation on forced labor as we knew some were bringing in people to sell fake gear. Cheap or free labor makes high profits for criminal exploiters. We knew a large, organized crime group from Romania was planning to bring women into London ahead of the games, so we did a lot of covert policing. We had a plan, a policy, and an operational delivery planned. The 2012 Olympics, I think to this day, is the only international, major sporting event where trafficking went down. There was no trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labor. I think a lot of that was because we introduced a policy approach that covered prevention, victim support, and operational deployment involving a multi-agency approach.

We got to the point where we had almost enough evidence to deal with the Romanian group that was doing the trafficking, but we still needed some additional evidence. I arranged EU funding and managed to get ten Romanian police and six Polish officers to be seconded to the Metropolitan police (these were included in our main countries of concern). We were able to target the offenders and arrested the Romanian crime group and their UK counterparts about six weeks before the games. We knew we wouldn't have enough to charge them at that point as we needed forensic and phone data analysis, although we knew we could once I got the evidence through letters requested from Romania. We didn't have it there and then to satisfy the prosecutor, but what we did have was enough to do what's called “bail conditions” under the UK law, where you can restrict what they do ahead of a charging decision. Thus we stopped their potential crimes: if they had breached bail conditions, we could arrest them for breaching them. A lot of work went into it; we eventually charged and convicted this crime group!

That work and the multi-agency approach were the start of a different approach to addressing human trafficking. Partnership and multi-agency are often spoken of, but this was actually working, and the outcomes and evidence proved it. The Modern Slavery Act was being developed at that time with many NGOs involved in the UK, some good, some okay, some not so good. And the same with police: there were some police forces involved but no police force was looking at it like the Met was, nowhere in the world, I don't think, and certainly nowhere in the UK.

How was the Catholic Church involved?

Because of all the work that my teams were doing with the Church, the Catholic bishops in London asked me if I could do a presentation. I explained to the bishops what the issue was. An Irish bishop, Pat Lynch, said, "Yes, I think I should take some leadership on this." He started to tell me about communities that were at risk. One was the Filipinos. He said that in his diocese, there were Filipinos who were being trafficked, quite a few of them. He said that they were really worried about speaking to the police because the documentation of many was irregular for one reason or another. So I said I would meet with them all, myself, with the bishop. “We can go to the Filipino embassy and assure them that I had no powers of arrest or anything like that, to make them feel more comfortable.” He told them that. I thought we would meet five or six Filipinos, but 67 turned up. It was a big operation. I then had to send officers to Manila. The Philippines had just introduced new laws about money laundering, so they wanted to test them, and we worked with them in Manila. Every single one of the 67 got justice in the sense that not one of them was deported; for those who had been due to come to the UK, we worked with the border force in the home office to get them regularized in the UK for a period. Some wanted education, some wanted to go home, and then lawyers got them compensation. So it was a successful operation.

Did you have many contacts beyond the Catholic community?

My main contacts were with Catholics, but I also developed relationships with the Jewish community, with an organization called René Cassin. I helped them write a policy for the Jewish community. And a bit later, I met the Chief Rabbi in London, who was incredibly supportive. He insisted that we should not just look at what other people are doing; let's look at what people of our faith are doing, because some of the people who are traffickers will be Jewish, he said. And what are our business cultures? That was the first thing he raised. What in our business culture makes sure that people are protected? His voice became very important to René Cassin and to the Jewish community. I met with some Muslim faith leaders, a particularly astonishing faith leader from North London who then started running events and meetings, particularly for people who were vulnerable in the Muslim community.

What I started to realize is that the approach of the Muslim community had to be different from the Catholic, and had to be different to the Jewish, within their faith environments, even though the issues were the same. Understanding the cultural differences was crucial. I met with community leaders from the Sikhs, evangelical leaders, and many others. The Anglicans were in it from the beginning. One of the leads for the Modern Slavery Act, Alastair Redfern, a member of the House of Lords, was an Anglican bishop, an incredible man. He set up the Clewer initiative. He and I created a relationship about what to do that is current to this day, and I still regularly meet and talk about issues. Later on I met with the Archbishop Canterbury, Justin Welby and got his support.

What approaches did you develop in working to combat sex trafficking?

Until about 2011, the criminal injuries compensation authority in the UK didn't allow women in prostitution to claim compensation, because the view was that they were committing an offense, and you can't claim compensation from the state if you are committing an offense. I engaged with the judges on the authority, and explained to them that in the UK there is no offense of prostitution; there's an offense of loitering for prostitution in the street. I don’t know if they realized that there was no such offense. If you're in a brothel working as a woman in prostitution, there is no offense. The people controlling it are the offenders. I used to hear this all the time, An NGO would say, "Last week the police went to this place and you arrested loads of women workers." But how? I checked the figures, even for women arrested on the streets. And most months in London it was zero, because it wasn't something that the police would see as a priority. It was misinformation, something that just got its own momentum. If there were arrests around women working on the street, it was for curb crawling, so it would be the men who were in the cars. Occasionally there would be arrests, but it wasn't a priority as implied. I think some people still think many prostitutes are arrested.

Here’s a good example of how misinformation gets out there. We did an operation in Soho, aimed at organized crime. The local police were monitoring some brothels linked to street robberies or muggings. The police found that the muggers always went back to brothels; the sales were done there, and the gang members would turn up later on in the night. During planned raids on these brothels, we were asked to join so that we could take victim teams with us and try to identify trafficking. That happened and it went very smoothly. The next morning there was a picture of women’s backs on a bench outside the brothels with a caption that the police were lining up women who were going to be taken away. Actually, two of the women were religious sisters, two were from NGOs. So the media story didn't stack up. That was a frequent thing: the perceptions and the reality were very, very different. But you do have to work to explain and communicate effectively to point to the real issues.

A former army officer who was working on trafficking in London, involved with faith groups, was working with a woman who he introduced us to; her pseudonym was Sophie Hayes. Sophie had been trafficked. She was British, and she'd been trafficked by an Albanian group, from the UK to Italy, and held at gunpoint in Italy, including by police officers. She was raped and badly treated and ended up in hospital. She managed to make a phone call to her mum and her mum came and rescued her. I met Sophie and she was exactly what you wouldn't think a trafficked person would look like. She had qualifications; she had been a data researcher. I gave her a role in my office, part-time, looking at data for us and helping us. Clearly this was not the career she wanted, but eventually she and her colleague set up a foundation. The Sophie Hayes Foundation, and it is running to this day and works with women who have been trafficked to give them employment opportunities. That's its main mission. Sophie herself clearly had an idea of where she wanted to be; we had a lot of connections with local hotels and a post came up in a good hotel in West London for someone to do analytical and business management work. Her skills were the right skills, and they gave her an interview, then the job. She went from strength to strength. She's now a regional manager in a hotel chain in the Southern Hemisphere. An incredible person. Sophie spoke at the Vatican in 2012 and her story was given to Pope Benedict.

Another woman who was trafficked from Chile had been in brothels all around London. She endured terrible things. She was tough, though; she had to be. She would look out for the other women. A Turkish gang trafficked her, and they had guns. One night there was a firearms incident, and armed police arrived. She ran and ended up going to North London but somehow ended up back with a Turkish gang and spent several years in a brothel. My team had intelligence, and we went to the brothel for information gathering and welfare. The women there didn't really want to engage with us, but what we used to do was give them a card with a number on it—just a card with a number and a name, so it wouldn't look like a police thing. “Just phone that number if you need help.” Two days later she phoned the number. (We used to run our own helpline; they don't anymore--a charity runs it now). She said she needed help. We were there within a couple of hours and rescued her. Then we identified who the traffickers were. Several women also left because one was strong. She explained that over the years she had been visited by many NGOs. Local police had gone there, but nobody had given her something to do, like phoning, and saying do this when you are ready. The hand in the Santa Marta Group strategy document is her holding the hand of Pope Francis. She gave a speech in the Vatican. We managed to assist her to get her a British passport, and she held it up. We'd put the traffickers in prison, and she got compensation. During her time with us, she said, “The best thing I ever did was meet the police.”

What is the lesson you draw from those experiences?

I heard time and time again that police involvement is seen as negative. I believe positive policing and partnership are critical. I'm not saying that police and law enforcement is the only way, far from that, but I think in the response to trafficking, it's the one part that's often left out. We who are the privileged in the world, if we're a victim of crime, the first thing we might do is phone the police, but other victims who are the most vulnerable, the last thing they do is phone the police. It's often the police that need to change, not the victims and not the system. And that's what I did in my units. I educated the police to bring change. We had a victim’s team run by an incredible female police officer, and a team of six to eight people. We expanded that area of our business model, and it became integral to all operations. Their whole thing was the management of victim support. That meant the operational teams could do their role to obtain the best evidence possible.

What happened next in your career?

Our work came to the attention of the bishops and then a Cardinal in Rome, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and I was asked to do an event in 2012. They brought in some diplomats, and the next thing I knew I'm there in front of Pope Benedict. There was talk of setting up something durable. An Irish bishop suggested that we should have St. Josephine Bakhita as our patron. At a church in North London, on the wall is a picture of St. Josephine and the bishop said when we walked out of the church that "She's got to be our patron saint." The bishops of England and Wales agreed and that was adopted by the bishops of the United States. We then started to work on setting up Bakhita House in London, with Bishop Pat Lynch. Then the archbishop (who became the Cardinal) also got involved. Bakhita house was set up as a rescue center and St. Mary's University introduced the Bakhita Center to conduct research. The idea for both was to have a center for applied research in trafficking and modern slavery. Both still run to this day and have continued successfully.

What was the origin of the Santa Marta Group?

Pope Francis agreed to support an event with police chiefs, some political leaders, diplomats, religious sisters, bishops, and NGOs held at the Pontifical Academy of the Vatican in April, 2014. It aimed to bring Church, NGOs, and state agencies together. The name Santa Marta was born because the Pope invited the senior delegates to stay at his residence, which is Casa Santa Marta. It started off with about 20 countries represented; there are now over 45 countries that have an active part, though all in different ways. Some are doing raising awareness, some are more advanced. Argentina has modules for training integrated into law enforcement that started probably in 2018, 19, so that every police officer who joins the Argentinian National Police will be trained, as it is integrated into their systems.

Is the Santa Marta Group primarily Catholic?

No. The event was held in Rome, but it involved Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and many others. There was the chief of police from India, a Hindu, the chief of police from Indonesia, and obviously Catholics. And the Anglican church was there.

Was there a police focus?

It was a criminal justice and remedy for victims focus, not just police. What was crucial, and this was where I suppose my part came in, is that criminal justice involves victim support. Most criminal justice is about victim justice and about protecting victims, but that's the bit that always is the add-on, when it should be equally important as any other piece. Justice is sometimes more than criminal justice; it has to be. The model of Santa Marta Group has gone way beyond the idea of just criminal justice. It's now about many ways that justice is a reality. Ideally it would be in terms of justice to everybody, though of course that could be different for different groups. There are nonetheless things that are integral about justice. The best form of justice is prevention. The most important role of the state is the safety of citizens and people. The human right of people and their protection is the delivery of justice, and an equal and equitable society.

What structure does the Santa Marta Group have today? Are there regular meetings? Some kind of secretariat?

It's got a secretariat in London, a team of five people in London, and then an advisor in the US and a group who cover Africa, set up by the Bishops' conference there, in Kenya and South Africa. It has representation in Australia through the Archdiocese of Sydney. And there is ongoing work in Argentina. I was recently in Brazil. We work with organizations, not necessarily Catholic organizations or even necessarily faith-based organizations, because police and most governments aren't faith-based. We work with many different kinds of organizations. In Brazil the Scalabrinis, a large religious order based there, and across many parts of the world, are well-connected with access to government, and to the police. They run an amazing project in Sao Paulo to protect migrant workers. They have a partnership with over 1000 businesses, the Government, and the UN.

What we have found is that faith-based organizations, within their members, have a network of access, which if utilized for good can be absolutely incredible.

For example, here in the US, I was introduced to the Cedars, the fellowship in Virginia. From that I was introduced to a number of senators, Congressional representatives, and people in politics, allowing discussion and an opportunity to advise or enlighten their thought processes and what they see. Most, in fact I think all of them at the Cedars, will be faith-based, but they're not just Christian, they're Muslim, they're Jewish. And using their values and talking about their values has helped on progressing a lot of the work, but it's not exclusive.

Who funds the Santa Marta Group?

It's funded by a number of ways but has received significant support from the Gubay Charitable Foundation, a UK-based philanthropic foundation. It normally funds bricks and mortar, but this was a new venture for it that has been quite exciting. Albert Gubay set up a chain of UK supermarkets and shopping centers.

In the UK for Santa Marta Group is a very important core element which is about engaging and enabling with communities. A lot is done through the Catholic networks because that's there, and it has the church halls and the churches, but it's not just about accessing Catholics. The model that we have in the UK, which is quite new, is about encouraging communities to start requesting and asking their elected officials and their public servants: what are they doing to prevent human trafficking? Members of Parliament, locally elected councillors, police chiefs, police and crime commissions, and maybe heads of local authorities, and civil servants. We've given them templates for letters to write to these people and say things like: in the Modern Slavery Act are what's called prevention orders and risk orders; how many times have you used these in the last year? Sadly, many of them will say zero. This is one of the best elements of the Modern Slavery Act.

The Salvation Army is clearly very deeply involved in the UK. How were they involved in your efforts?

When I was working with the Poppy Project, I had a very strong relationship with the Salvation Army, working with them as they were designing responses at the centers that they were running. That traditionally focused on homelessness or other forms of vulnerability. I met a number of times with their team. When the Poppy Project had the government contract, they would only look after women. The new Government contract wanted a service provider to look after women, men, and families, and the Poppy Project wasn't able to do that because they were a women's organization. The Salvation Army won the contract in 2013 and have it to this day. I worked extensively with them because they were now running the NRM (National Referral Mechanism), which is the government funded system for supporting victims. It was important that we had direct links with the Salvation Army. Then the Salvation Army geographically sited themselves next to the National Crime Agency, at that time the serious organized crime agency, the statutory decision makers on victims of trafficking. Both were placed in Birmingham. I went up and met regularly with the team. We did events together publicly to talk about this new NRM and how it was going to work with law enforcement and statutory agencies and how it worked for the Salvation Army. When I subsequently became commissioner, I went and looked at their centers and saw the incredible work they did and how it was far beyond what was just required for the NRM. They were involved in rebuilding lives and acting as a rescue center.

Are they part of Santa Marta? 

They've been to Santa Marta group events, but they're not part of the Santa Marta Group. Because of the constitution of police jobs and the constitution of government representatives, there would be a lot of Catholics, maybe 40%. And the rest would be mixed religions.

Would you say the focus on trafficking came to you or was it something that was part of your own aspirations?

I suppose in a sense it came to me. When the role came up, the enforcement side, particularly, it wouldn't have appealed to me because with my skill set of dealing with serious organized crime and international crime, that would in a sense have been going back to local policing. The vice team was very well sought after because it was based in Central London, and it was well-resourced. But my mission was to turn it into something really professional. That came with a lot of pain because people don't like change. So in that sense it came to me.

But it was the skill set that I had and what I did, because I'd been dealing with vulnerability crime, whether it was rape or others. When I was working in Birmingham, one of the roles I had, the area I was covering, involved a very high rate of street prostitution and there were a lot of rapes. I remember that the attitude of the police towards those rapes was often poor. I investigated cases of a number of women who were in prostitution who got raped. We went down there one night and a woman had been raped, and I requested a full scene examination; I'm sure some people were thinking, "Why are you doing this? It's a prostitute or whatever." At the crime scene, an officer found phlegm. Because of the sexual activity that happened, that was recovered for examination and that then identified the suspect. The same suspect, it transpired, had raped a nurse. There was a strangely different attitude: for the nurse, "Oh, this is terrible, " while before it was "Oh, well."

So I had that experience. I've conducted murder investigations. So when I went to this new role, I had the skills of managing and deploying intense covert policing in anti-corruption, all the skills of dealing with vulnerability crime, which is associated to rape and to murder, because obviously you're dealing with distraught families--all those skills of twenty-odd years of service. I put it all together in this new idea of approaching trafficking.

Was the Olympic experience something of a turning point?

Yes. That then led into the partnership, engagement, and involvement with the Church. Much of it was about very practical things where you can make a difference to vulnerability. But the police's role is actually to police and to catch criminals and to prevent them doing it again, an important element, which became increasingly important to me over time. When I was a police officer in Birmingham, in charge of a particular precinct or divisional area, that was crime ridden, it was important to start working on prevention. The Olympics experience was a prime example of what prevention is. Generally speaking, governments and local authorities are very, very poor at prevention, because how do you count prevention?

You retired from the Metropolitan Police in 2014. What came next?

That's when the role of Anti-Slavery Commissioner came up. I applied and was selected by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister to be the Anti-Slavery Commissioner of the United Kingdom, the first one ever, with new legislation. I was very keen to use all the skills and expertise I had, both nationally and internationally, to get this crime where it used to be. Theresa May was Home Secretary at the time. She used to ask me to attend events like the G7 with her, when it was hosted in London, and to liaise with countries. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, asked me if I would go to Vietnam and help with issues there. And then I was asked to look at the whole issue of trafficking from Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

Trafficking and smuggling were coming via the English Channel, so I went to France as well. In 2017, I identified boats that were being used, and I did a report about solutions to push back the trafficking, with implementation plans as well as implications for migrants. I focused on reducing the risks. The report was accepted by the government, by three secretaries of state, Boris Johnson, Foreign Minister, Priti Patel, who was Development secretary, and Amber Rudd, who was the Home Secretary. The Prime Minister was Theresa May. We began planning implementation, but then other things took over. Look at where we are now in the Channel; my report was all about going back and back and back and interactions further back and work with countries, and to look for where the points of opportunity are to prevent the vulnerability, to disseminate information that trying to enter illegally won’t work. and to disrupt and pursue the criminal traffickers and smugglers.

Many of the people I met when I went to Vietnam or when I went to Africa or Southeast Asia would say: “it doesn't matter how difficult it is, we're still going to try.” Building fences? No use. Like what's going on now, the intervention on the boats, no use; people die. The current approach is seriously flawed. It has never been addressed in the right way.

You were Commissioner until 2018?

Yes. An independent role under legislation. When I was first appointed, I was given a designate role. I'd been working with the Home Office and a lot of that role was about refining the legislation and making sure it went through and convincing people it was needed. I'd spent a lot of time in Parliament speaking to different committees. The Home Secretary said to me, “get it implemented as quickly as possible; start doing the planning.” So when the act came in, I had done my three-year strategy and it was up and running and the pillars were there. That saw a massive increase in victim identification, which has continued. The crime reporting identified a few hundred before that time; it's now running at 15,000. So all those cases were being lost and not reported. That meant that victims weren't entitled to criminal injuries compensation or right to remain if undocumented, because you can't get criminal injuries or services of the state without reporting the case.

We developed responses between civil society and statutory agencies. There's still an absence of partnerships that are meaningful, the effectiveness of partnership should be tangible. Everyone will say there's a partnership, but what is a meaningful partnership? If you look at the UK at the moment, the waiting list for a decision in the NRM is over 500 days. Imagine if you were to go into a police station here in Washington DC and say, "I've just been robbed, my house has been broken into." And the police said, "Okay, we'll come back to you." And you can't file your insurance claim for 500 days; you'd be fuming. This is a crime whereby people have been raped and seriously hurt. The reason it's taking 500 days is that the decision is with the Home Office, which in itself is just crazy, because where else do the Home Office get involved in decisions about crime? Nowhere.

That's been part of the problems with the NRM/ There's always this push that it shouldn't be a role of the state because they aren't up to it and will mess up. But there has to be state involvement if you're talking about crime: state money, taxpayers’ money, and important decisions, for example residency, medical and health access, and support. The recommendations I proposed were for a body to be established with police, because that's the only entity that actually assesses crime, alongside an expert NGO. They come together with expert lawyers to make decisions, within a few days. Then you've got the police who will look at the crime, the NGO will look at welfare, and the lawyer will look at human rights law and the relevant legislation. The NGO might be the Salvation Army or an organisation like that, with expertise. But it needs to be a body that's set up, well resourced, that can deal with the workload that's coming in and could turn around these reports, many of them in hours, all of them within days. That's the missing bit in all countries.

How many countries have an equivalent anti Trafficking position?

No country has an anti-slavery commissioner in the role that I had. Australia is just about to appoint one, but they've had a state level one for a couple of years, in New South Wales. But the ones in Australia are looking primarily at supply chains, certainly the new South Wales ones, whereas the federal one that they're introducing will have a responsibility over victims. They have followed a lot of the UK approach, though they've given the federal one in Australia probably more authority and certainly significantly more funding than in the UK.

What would be the equivalent in the United States?

You have a TIP ambassador, in the State Department, but that is only outward looking; the TIP office does do the evaluation of trafficking in all countries, including the US, in its annual evaluation, which comes from data from governments. But there is nothing similar in the US at all. Some of your states are so big that it might be very difficult to have a federal type role. But I think that is what is needed. The whole idea of a commissioner should be that it looks at where good practice is and brings that in. A federal type country is different to the UK, although when I was the commissioner it covered the whole UK: England and Wales, which comes under one legislation, Scotland, with different legislation, and Northern Ireland with another. In Scotland, I had a different role with the ministers to the rest of the UK. In Northern Ireland, there was a statutory requirement for the government to look after victims of sexual exploitation. I had to work across three jurisdictions. Sometimes the political interference I would get was difficult. I used to praise Scotland and Northern Ireland, and sometimes that did not got down very well in London.

Who succeeded you after you resigned as Commissioner in 2018?

Sarah Thornton, who was a former National Police Chiefs Council Lead; she did four years as well. Then they went without one for 18 months. The new one was only appointed in November 2023, Eleanor Lyons, former deputy commissioner for children. She's a former government adviser, so it's the first time there's been somebody who hasn't come from criminal justice.

What has been your journey since you left government?

I live in Ireland and have done for a little while; I regularly commute to London. In August of 2018, I applied to be the Irish representative to the Council of Europe Group for trafficking (an elected position by the Council). I was elected as Ireland’s representative there and I did country inspections of other countries in the Council of Europe--never Ireland, as you can't inspect your own country. I was still assisting the Santa Marta Group on many things that were going on. I was helping the Garda Síochána, the Irish Police Force. I've given expert evidence, which has resulted in convictions. I was asked to do trainings all over the world, evaluations of countries for the OSCE and the US government. Thus a whole raft of things were ongoing. I was asked to assist the UN and partake in many UN events, for example with UNODC, UN Women or UN member states. I have attended most of the Commission on the Status of Women UN meetings since 2015, and helped on a number of things, particularly around policy. I helped shape and give advice on a number of areas refining my expertise. I am the chair of Arise, which is about supporting victims of trafficking across four countries, mainly but not exclusively by religious sisters; for example, in Albania and the Philippines the projects are delivered by a non-religious organisation.

For the Irish government, I inspected prisons during the COVID time and for a short while after. For about 20 months I visited nearly all the Irish prisons. One thing that came out was the amount of trafficked people who were wrongly imprisoned, something that I'm working on at the moment. The Council of Europe and the EU advise that legislation or policy should introduce a non-punishment principle of victims for offences committed as a result of or during trafficking. In Ireland, for example, the new legislation they're bringing in doesn't incorporate a statutory defense or a presumption. These issues show a lack of understanding by governments. Professional services should be able to determine if a defense is applicable; currently it’s often only raised if a lawyer for the defense challenges a case. I have personally seen a 13-year old girl imprisoned as an adult. She had a forged passport for a 27 year old when being moved from the UK to France to be sold into prostitution. Her appearance was not that of a 27 year old; she was even a young looking 13 year old. Yet she ended up in prison. This is actually disgraceful.

Thus I've done many different things since 2018.

When were you awarded the OBE?

I got it in the Queen's Honors list, January 2015, by Queen Elizabeth II. A very proud moment and taking my father to Buckingham Place was very special.

How does Talitha Kum fit into the broad trafficking alliance?

Sister Abby Avelino, the lead of Talitha Kum, is part of the G20 Interfaith Forum. I work closely with Talitha Kum, and I meet with Abby several times a year. Talitha Kum sits in Rome, and it's the umbrella of all the work of religious sisters, but not all religious sisters orders are members of Talitha Kum. I've been invited to their major event in May in Rome, for the annual Sisters Awards (I'm now on that board). Talitha Kum are thus very much involved. Talitha Kum is looking for bigger things it can be involved in. The work that religious sisters do on the ground has to be recognized. It is work they've been doing for years, for decades, for centuries. And goodness and kindness is ingrained in their work. Renate is the European side; some Renate members are also members of Talitha Kum, though some are not. UISG, which Talitha Kum has now been placed in, the Union of International Superior Generals, is the body that is the collaboration of religious sisters. The fact that Talitha Kum has just been placed within UISG is an important step.

Andrew Forrest (Walk Free, End Slavery Now) has been very active on modern slavery. How does he fit in all this?

Andrew has been incredibly active and initiated many of the efforts to understand human trafficking and modern slavery. I first met Andrew in London when I was a police officer. He established Walk Free who produce the Global Slavery Index. He was a protagonist for the 2014 meeting of the world faith leaders in the Vatican. He is now also working on the green agenda. His daughter, Grace, who was the originator of Andrew’s involvement in anti-modern slavery, is now holding the lead for trafficking for his organization. She is very capable and a real asset to the cause. She is on former UK Prime Minster Theresa May's Global Commission for Modern Slavery.

How did your connection with the G20 Interfaith Forum begin?

I was invited by the Australian government in 2017, to help them develop their new legislation, and gave evidence to committees both in New South Wales and in Canberra. I spent a lot of time working with ministers and individual MPs and also with civil servants. At the time, a university there was part of the G20 Forum. From that relationship, I received an invitation to the G20 Interfaith Forum as a speaker in Argentina. A number of conversations there led to my continuing involvement. This helped me to build on the focus in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on trafficking and modern slavery.

An important thing I did during my time as anti-Slavery Commissioner related to the SDGs. During the negotiation phase, there was no target for ending modern slavery and human trafficking. In May 2015, I put together a draft--three or four lines--of what I wanted in there. I went on a Saturday morning to the Vatican, and got the explicit endorsement of the Pope. Incredibly, I got a message on my phone when I landed back in London, saying the Holy Father wishes you and your family well, blesses you, and will fully support what you are asking for. His support was reported in the media, saying that the Vatican was supporting me, a totally different approach to anything that you would normally see in government. They would never credit such an action to an individual. The Vatican and the Pope did it the opposite way. To me this shows how Pope Francis thinks and operates. He is truly the highest moral leader in the world.

Did you discuss the matter directly with the Pope on that occasion?

I’ve met Pope Francis several times, but on this occasion I met with Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who went to see the Pope. Then I was messaged the same day when I got home to say that he had agreed. The documentation I put forward was personally put to him.

I then had to make sure this got into the SDGs! I'd got the backing of the Pope. I met with the Argentinian government and my own government in the UK. They were still saying that it would be very difficult, and they were right. But the UK ambassador at the UN, Martin Shearman, was fantastic and really pushed it. We then got support from a group of countries, and on the last day of the negotiations in August, the text on the trafficking target went in!

At the G20 Interfaith Forum event in Buenos Aires, I put forward a few lines for inclusion in the declaration. There were only a few lines because the higher people get up the tree, the less they want to read. And I remember that the words that we wrote collectively in that meeting ended up in the leaders’ declaration from the Argentina Summit. We agreed on the wording there and it went, I know, to the Australian Prime Minister, to the Argentinians, and to the UK Prime Minister. So therefore it was worked into the declaration. Every G20 leaders’ declaration since has contained something about human trafficking or forced labor, with the influence continuing from the G20 Interfaith Forum.

I've been part of that anti-trafficking network, which I've seen grow, and seen it in a sense crystallizing to something.

After Argentina, how many G20 Interfaith Forum events have you attended?

I've been to all of them, including the ones online during COVID. The only one that I didn't get to was because of aircraft problems and weather, in Indonesia. But I did visit Indonesia and met with Government Ministers and officials since.

To wrap up this conversation, where do you see the situation now? How do you see your dream, that of the G20 Interfaith Forum, and more broadly what we might aspire to?

The G20 Interfaith Forum has been an important vehicle for educating me about what the G20 is and what it isn't. It also educated me about the influence of faith groups and the value of interfaith dialogue. Some faith leader presentations I've seen at the Interfaith Forum, not always to do with trafficking, give crystal clear messages, some obviously better than others; some know how to orate better than others, but it was inspiring. In India [2023]. As I was going there, everybody was telling me that, " nobody would be able to say anything. It'll just all be a whitewash." And although we know that it was very much an event that was well-prepared by the government, it actually ran very well. The faith leaders weren't holding back on what they were saying about the world's problems, including the problems in India. Everyone was diplomatic but that's just being polite and you'd expect faith leaders to be polite.

It has allowed me to really understand where strengths are. Tokyo was an important G20 event because we had former Prime Minister of the UK David Cameron and Ireland’s Enda Kenny, and an enormous audience, as you may expect in Japan. I remember an interesting exchange about whether the Interfaith Forum should join the official part of the G20. An ambassador argued that you've got more power and influence by staying independent. Understanding these arguments was important to me. The G20 Interfaith Forum has had senior people there, politicians, ministers. At the recent Indonesia meeting the Minister of Law and Justice supported it and I had the opportunity to talk about the G20 model I'm involved in.

My ambition, and I've worked up a plan, is for the G20 to be the vehicle to drive the end of human trafficking for modern slavery. As with any crime, eradication completely off the planet is difficult, if not impossible. But eradication of the model that currently exists as part of society is possible. And to eradicate it to numbers where it's not insignificant (because it's always significant to the people it affects), but insignificant numbers, is possible. I believe that G20 nations should collectively be investing US$30 billion every year in human trafficking prevention and responses by 2030.

I think that the G20 Interfaith Forum is the ideal vehicle to do that in two ways. First, it's running alongside the powerful G20. And second, because the eradication of human trafficking is a duty of faith. It's a duty of people of good will. Thus it's a natural fit in the two tracks there.

When I meet people like White House, Labor department, State Department representatives, in the US and elsewhere (Australia, Argentina, etc.), everybody sees this: "Actually, this makes sense." A major law firm had the same response. It rings off the tongue to say $30 billion by 2030, 30 by 30. That sticks to your mind as publicity. Then we ask, “what does it mean?” It means that the G20 nations, which includes the EU, and African Union, will collectively be investing $30 billion in dealing with human trafficking by 2030. That's not a lot of money in global terms, but it's a lot more than what's currently being invested. It’s a starting point. 2030 is also the starting point. So we've got six years now to get to that point. In my discussions with US and other officials, they all liked it, and they indicate they support it, and they're coming up with ideas about how to deliver it and who will be the oversight mechanism. It is in its early stages. What is important to remember is this crime generates at least US$150 billion every year. If the 30 by 30 if effective it could actually generate income and be cost neutral.

I was pleased in recent discussions that the fact that I was talking about faith didn't close doors; it opened doors, particularly in the American context. The initiative opens conversations with the Pope, who himself is very much aware of the fact that the G20 is in Brazil, and that the Church can play a bigger role I know that human trafficking is a priority for Pope Francis and for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Jewish faith, the Muslim faith, and other religious groups. It's important to get them all involved. This year is especially important because it marks ten years since 2014, when the Pope permitted the meeting in the Vatican where faith leaders from many different faiths signed a commitment on trafficking.

You were raised as a Catholic, you said you went to Jesuit schools. Was that how you came in contact with the bishops, or was it more from professional links?

Professional, nothing to do with my religious background or beliefs. My primary schools, because we moved house when I was quite young, from one area to another, was mix and match, not Catholic. My classes were very multicultural: Muslims, Hindus, Jehovah's Witness, etc.. Part of my foundation is that a school’s wonderful headmaster, who was Welsh, had lessons on everybody's faith. This was in the 1960s. I knew all about Jehovah's Witnesses at the age of six and seven, and why the Jehovah's Witness wouldn't go to morning assembly. When we came to Christmas, we had different celebrations. I remember clearly that the school, in London, would ask permission of parents who weren't Christian to be involved. A Jehovah's Witness, a good friend of mine, was in the nativity play. I saw interfaith dialogue at a time when it was meaningful and wasn't fabricated by political agendas.

I think we should try to do something that gets into the thought processes of political and business leaders who influence the political world. If we could do that under the umbrella of faith, because that's the safe area, and under the umbrella of the moral leadership, we could make progress. Moral leadership is the key to action. There are many threads: sex trafficking, labor trafficking, trafficking in organs, and a relatively new issue that the Australians bring in, forced adoption, where people sell their children, to coercive adoption agencies or orphanages. You need preventative strategies and action.

Supply chains are complex, but they're not impossible to manage, because they exist and it has to end somewhere. Other things involve cultures. There's a push now from the Inter-Parliamentary Union on child labor and mining, for example, around cobalt and other minerals. An alternative to cobalt has been identified, in Utah. There's a push to find minerals elsewhere. At some point, maybe already, the DRC will not be able to cope with the demand because as we get greener, the demand's going to go up. So some of it has to pivot away, but also then it means that you've got another way of pushing the DRC to eliminate child labor in mines. If you don't do this properly, we are going to pivot to other countries. Australia is exploring its own potential mineral supplies. The US is also. Ireland's got some resources. So you've got to join this clean image and you've got to start making sure that people are not in forced labor. There are many ways for a policy approach to do good work, when workers are paid and in decent jobs; society and families do better. Of course, it would be wrong to take away all the business from nations who rely on trade with the more wealthy nations, but countries must prevent child and forced labor. Far too many children die in exploitative or poor working conditions. Children should be given a chance for education, not supporting a family. And there is an argument that China will always give the bad actors business. But even China does not want to appear to support these practices. If they can get the same goods from Australia, and it comes from a clean mining source, they just might. They'll just pivot to Australia like everyone else. But it is important that the G20 uses it influence to ensure all countries conduct their business without slavery or forced labor.

I do believe we can break the model of modern slavery and human trafficking, but to do so will take great leadership, courage, and an ability to look for and implement new solutions. Next year is 25 years since the UN Palermo Protocol and the US Trafficking legislation were introduced. If we ask ourselves and are honest, we are nowhere near the amount of progress that should have been achieved in a quarter of a century.

Every person who is trafficked is a life worth fighting for. If we get this right in our generation, people for centuries to come will hopefully not even know of this phenomenon, and that will be the real success, helping the world for people we will never know and who are not yet born.

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