“Although the word slavery conjures up historical images of Biblical slaves in Egypt before the Exodus, or the trans-Atlantic slave trade in colonial America and the British Empire, enslavement exists today in many forms. Modern slavery may not involve shackles and chains but there are actually more slaves today than at any point in human history, and it continues to represent grave violations of human rights.”
These were the stark words spoken by Ms Mia Hasenson-Gross, director of Rene Cassin (1) the Human rights organisation, in her Human Rights Day address to the combined United Nations Association and Barnet Multi Faith Forum event on 10th December 2016 at Middlesex University.
“Someone is in slavery”, she explained, “if:
They are forced to work – through mental or physical threat
They are owned or controlled by an ‘employer’ usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse
They are dehumanised, treated as commodity or bought and sold as property
They are physically constrained or have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement.”
This is in direct violation of Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”
At present 46 million people are estimated to be in slavery worldwide, of which 55% are women and 26% children. Slavery and human trafficking is the second largest criminal activity in the world, second only to drug smuggling, netting $36 billion a year for traffickers. It takes several forms … domestic servitude, child labour, forced marriage, bonded labour to repay debt – the most common form of enslavement in the world – and sex trafficking of women, men and children.
In the UK an estimated 13,000 men, women and children are in slavery. The most common sources are Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, Romania, the and Poland … victims work primarily in private houses, nail salons, car washes, building sites, and agriculture, … and children in particular in cannabis factories … “Slavery is not legal anywhere but happens everywhere “
The issue of slavery and human trafficking has been recognised by governments worldwide. In November 2014 the UK Government published its Modern Slavery Strategy. (2) In the introduction, Theresa May MP, then Home secretary, wrote:
“The time has come for concerted, coordinated action. Working with a wide-range of partners, we must step up the fight against modern slavery in this country, and internationally, to put an end to the misery suffered by innocent people around the world. Together we must send a powerful message to all traffickers and slave drivers that they will not get away with their crimes. We must do all we can to protect, support and help victims, and ensure that they can be returned to freedom.”
This in turn led to Karen Bradley MP being appointed Minister for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime, and the passage of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act (3) which lists the offences included within this definition, and the range of sentences applicable to each. The UK’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, was also appointed, his brief being to hold the government accountable for its commitments under this Act.
Further action has seen the publication, in March 2016, of the Home Office document Victims of Modern Slavery … frontline staff guidance (4) … aimed at enabling the latter to “identify and help potential victims of modern slavery (including human trafficking) in England and Wales and potential victims of trafficking in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
A specialist unit, Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) (5), has also been set up within the National Crime Agency, with a specific brief to safeguard potential victims from such crimes and to target those who enable or facilitate crimes of modern slavery here in the UK
Since the passage of the 2015 Act, the number of identified victims has risen by 40% and there have been more many prosecutions. Between 27 November and 3 December 2016, as part of what is termed Operation Magnify, UK immigration officers targeted 280 nail bars, arresting 97 people for immigration offences, 14 of whom are believed to be victims of slavery. But, in the words of the Commissioner, there are still “too many gaps in the system for victims to fall through.”
So what can we as a faith organisation do to help? Returning to Ms Hasenson-Gross, she suggests the following:
Raise awareness and educate –as to what slavery in our society actually looks like; why we should not allow assumptions that people simply ‘escape’ or are ‘rescued’ and the problems end there; why people at the lowest socio-economic level of our communities are at risk; why refugees and migrants are at risk;
Join forces – with others to improve care for victims – victims’ care organisation and agencies; local faith communities. Support could be financial; medical (physical and psychological) etc.
Lobby local MPs and Government – to ensure a victim-centred approach – so that state provided support for ‘recognised victims of slavery’ does not abruptly end after 45 days, for people who because of their vulnerable situation, many maybe targeted by human traffickers again and re left in worse situations;
Hold companies accountable for transparency in their supply chains to ensure that are no slavery like conditions anywhere down the line
It’s appropriate to follow Ms Hasenson- Gross by concluding with a quote from the anti slavery campaigner William Wilberforce:
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
For further information on the sources referred to above, go to: