By Tatiana Zaituni
It may seem hard to believe, but modern slavery affects more than 100,000 people in Britain.
In every region in the UK, there are people who are forced to work against their will.
The Center for Social Justice (CSJ) recently published their work looking at the nature and the unknown scale of modern slavery. It comes five years since the UK government passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the fight against slavery continues.
Typically, the word ‘slavery’ evokes historical images, such as transatlantic slave ships and The Middle Passage. However, this report highlights the reality of many people today; many who are stuck in poverty and enslavement, either through human trafficking, forced labour, or exploitation.
When we look at the scale of this issue, we need a clear understanding of the definition of enslavement.
AntiSlavery.org defines modern slavery as ‘‘the severe exploitation of others for personal or commercial gain’’.
In the CSJ report titled ‘It’s still happening here’, the police study reveals the hideous scale of modern slavery in the UK could involve more than 100,000 victims, including British citizens.
According to a 2017 government study, “The economic and social cost of modern slavery was £3.3 billion – £4.3 billion, but this was based on their estimated prevalence of only 10,000 – 13,000 suspected victims’’.
Evidence in the report also revealed that organised crimes of the prohibiting trade of tobacco are often fronts for human trafficking and modern slavery in West Yorkshire.
“We have an ongoing case which began with a significant seizure of cigarettes from an off licence. Further investigations revealed that the premises had over 70 people registered as living there in two years, and we have uncovered serious organised people trafficking evidence to suggest individuals are being housed illegally,” says Rachel Reeves MP for Leeds West from West Yorkshire Trading Standards.
The report demands full transparency from businesses when addressing the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains.
Back in 2015, the CSJ’s initial report estimated that 13,000 people in the UK were working as slaves in agriculture, hospitality, fishing, private homes, brothels, nail bars and cannabis farms.
Since then, the numbers have drastically increased. In Leeds alone, there could be as many as 500 similar shops, each trafficking hundreds of people.
‘It could be much bigger than exploitation and slavery in hand car washes and nail bars’ according to the West Yorkshire Trading Standards.
The CSJ report found that COVID-19 will likely trigger an increased risk of modern slavery and human trafficking.
The main factors driving people into slavery are poverty, lack of opportunities and other vulnerability, i.e. being coerced, abused, debt bondage and forced labour.
Enslavers and human traffickers will profit from the poverty increase resulted from the pandemic; and the catastrophic socio-economic discrepancy.
The impact of the lockdown will lead many people to take desperate measures—the disparity caused by the systemic breakdown dispositions many into a cause of action of modern slavery.
People who are marginalised are inclined to fall in this bracket. In an interview with the Guardian, Parsha Chandran, a world-leading expert on human trafficking, states: “Immigrant workers are reportedly paid as low as £3 hours without protective equipment in places like Leicester, and I think this is an example of the type of exploitation that has been going on up and down the country during COVID.”
In the CSJ report, Dame Sarah Thornton DBE worries about the opportunity that will present itself for human traffickers that could benefit as industries are seeking to recruit low-paid workers to get back to business swiftly.
As a fight against injustices in the UK, the fight against modern slavery corresponds with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The BLM protests have and continue to be a global event, and for many, the pulling down of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue became a symbol for the fight against systematic injustice in the UK.
Edward Colston dedicated his wealth to charity, and his memorial and buildings are found in the street of Bristol, but historically there has been little to no mention of his insidious past.
The damnation of slave trader statues across the country has exposed the legacy that we all want to value; attesting to the history taught in school.
The enslavement of Africans 500 years ago was a commodification of human life, which benefited a set of elite group’s people and organisations.
The same existing factors are common to Modern Slavery.
But what the BLM movement has done is highlight the importance of educating ourselves on both historical slavery and modern slavery in this country. The scale to which women, men, and children are stuck in bondage.
Ms Chandran wants to create a programme in school to educate young people that will highlight the danger of human trafficking.
It’s hard to detect the signs of Modern Slavery, and the act is a vastly hidden crime.
However, there are a few things that can be done in society to tackle this issue; Parsha Chandran pointed out the significance of how ‘social awareness plays a massive part’.
For example, She raises the need to be observant when going to car washes and seeing people being mistreated, which could mean that they are enslaved.
If you’ve noticed suspicious behaviour or activities, you can contact Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700, the police, Crimestoppers or groups such as Anti-Slavery International.
Kirklees Local TV posted a video to the playlist Public Eye.
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