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UK bid to help end child labour hailed as critical by anti-slavery group founder

The British Government's intervention to help stamp out child labour and human trafficking is critical, a billionaire businessman bidding to end modern slavery said.

The measures will help spot vulnerable people most at risk of exploitation and strengthen the response from law enforcement agencies in Commonwealth countries.

As part of the plan, the UK will work in countries such as Sri Lanka and Malawi to build the capacity of police forces and prosecutors to root out human trafficking and increase the number of convictions for the crime.

Andrew Forrest, who founded the Walk Free Foundation to combat slavery, said: "It is a very powerful influence by the British Government. The capital is not enormous but the direction of travel is critical.

"I would encourage the British Government to act by example all over the world."

He urged ministers to encourage the companies they do business with to support measures to end modern slavery.

Forced labour and trafficking affects an estimated 40 million people, the Government has said.

An official package of £5.5 million includes £3 million to help spot and tackle child labour and build capacity to end the practice in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

Some £2 million will strengthen law enforcement agencies' abilities in India, Sri Lanka, Malawi and Zambia while £500,000 will support new legislation in nine Commonwealth countries.

Mr Forrest, an Australian philanthropist and business leader in the mining sector, added: "It is certainly very much a step in the right direction.

"We are delighted that the UK continues to show leadership here.

"It is not enormous but a trend is a trend.

"The fact that the British Government are prepared to step up and do this is fantastic."

This week he launched the Foundation's Towards a Common Future report at Australia House in London and said even the largest British companies had not been exempt from the problem in the past.

The use of anti-modern slavery legislation has made it more difficult for companies to remain unaware of what is happening in their supply chains, Mr Forrest said.

The Foundation's report urged the Commonwealth nations to criminalise all forms of exploitation and set appropriate penalties.

It said the minimum age for legal marriage should be raised to 18 and laws should be strengthened to protect labour rights.

It also urged that more be done to train and adequately resource law enforcement and better training of support workers to identify victims.

Mr Forrest added: "The truth is that ordinary people everywhere in the world, including the UK, unwittingly come into contact with victims of modern slavery every day - we might walk past a little girl trapped in a forced marriage, a hotel cleaner that has had her passport confiscated, or touch this crime through the clothes and products made through illegal forced labour that we use every day.

"Given the strength and moral standing of the Commonwealth, we cannot stand idly by while over 40 million people remain victims of modern slavery around the world."

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