“Modern slavery is the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability”
Modern slavery is ubiquitous. It is despairing that in the 21st century a statement such as this rings of truth. We did not confine slavery to the passage of history, instead, it’s become more malicious and calculating in its operations.
Slavery is illegal, it is a crime, it is a human rights violation and yet it prevails. Human trafficking, the means to slavery is one the most profitable industries on Earth, second only to the arms and drugs trades. Most of us unwittingly come into contact with slavery on a daily basis, it continues unabated in your neighbourhoods and communities.
Croydon has often been described a hub for trafficking and slavery, it has the highest number of modern slavery victims of any London Borough. My work at Croydon Community Against Trafficking (CCAT), a charity that has campaigned for 15 years on this pernicious issue, involves educating communities, training young people to mitigate risks, overseeing the intelligence gathering we’ve been undertaking for over decade on potential sites on exploitation and input into policy, and preventative work locally.
At CCAT our remit has focused on being preventative rather than reactive. We believe by going into the heart of our communities, we bring awareness that helps people spot the signs, reporting procedures and have the opportunity to ask questions on this hidden crime.
It is woefully difficult to capture accurate statistics pertaining to slavery and trafficking – the official government statistics stand at around 13,000 to “tens of thousands”. These are estimates, much like the international figures which stands at around 50 million, which could be likened to almost 75% of the British population. The figures for the UK are sourced by the National Crime Agency, which rely on victims coming forward to build a picture of slavery in our country. This has obvious shortcomings however, for the time being it is the system upon which we continue to rely in the absence of a more comprehensible one.
Victims that are fortunate enough to have sought help arrive from over 100 countries with the main ones being Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, Romania and the UK. Slavery and trafficking of people is very much a national issue too, it prevails in our very own communities and cities. People are exploited across a myriad of sectors including car washes, nail bars, take away shops, cleaning companies and hospitality industries.
Women are sexually exploited and enslaved on bustling high streets, residential areas and local hotels. Industries across the world participate in dubious labour activities from fast fashion, chocolate, coffee and fisheries sectors to name but a few.
The main forms of slavery are sexual, whereby people (men, women and children) are bought to the UK often across several countries to be sold into brothels. Labour exploitation, which is the foremost form of slavery in the UK, having overtaken sexual slavery some years back, permeates many industries such as construction, fisheries, agriculture, beauty, hospitality and restaurant trades.
Traffickers recruit groups of people to work in any number of these trades using threats and coercion to subdue them including threats of violence to family in their home country which is more widely known as debt bondage. This is especially prominent among young Vietnamese boys bought to the UK for purposes of harvesting cannabis on drugs farms.
Domestic servitude involves young people, as well as adults, to be forced into working as house slaves undertaking tasks such as cleaning, cooking, child minding and on occasion sexual exploitation in domestic settings.
Slavery manifests itself into many forms such as enforced begging, forced criminality and organ trafficking which is particularly malevolent whereby people are trafficked for the purposes of having their organs removed to be sold on covert markets. This provides a snapshot of the nature of activities that are taking place in our neighbourhoods.
Traffickers exploit vulnerable people, inveigling them into a life of degradation and slavery. They lure them with dreams of prosperity and comfort to sell them into a life from which they cannot find a way back.
The UK enacted the seminal Modern Slavery Act in 2015 which regulates the crimes that come under the ambit of slavery and trafficking as well as introducing life sentences for traffickers, the level of prosecutions has been woeful and the number of people imprisoned even more so. Clearly there is a long way to go. We need to work towards building more robust statutory responses to victims and especially those remain hidden.
There are many destitute and desperate people that have no voice, which is why the work of charities such as CCAT is so vital, to create spaces for people to talk about this issue to learn more about it, gather intelligence and encourage people to campaign. Slavery is rife, the widespread nature of this crime means it can only be overcome by a large-scale effort that involves the statutory sector, charity organisations and our communities. Victims are here and they are hidden in plain sight, so please report if you suspect something amiss.
If you suspect modern slavery, please contact the modern slavery helpline, even if these are ‘just’ suspicions, as only by reporting can we start to process of investigating and rescuing. The national Modern Slavery Helpline is 08000 121 700 (https://www.modernslaveryhelpline.org).
If you’re interested in learning more about a community-led grassroots charity such as CCAT or if you’d like to support our work please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org
Saima Raza is the Manager at Croydon Community Against Trafficking (CCAT), who will be leading out in our event on October 16th at Project B from 6.30-8.30pm.