'People shouldn't be bought and sold.'
Borrowed are the words of anti-human trafficking organisation 'Stop the Traffik'. Six words uttered in a single breath, here is a compelling moral 'mustry' which just so happens to be one of the most tragically and antithetically defining statements of modern Britain. For here, in the language of trade and commerce, people are bought and sold. They shouldn't, self-evidently. But they are. People are being bought and sold. Present continuous.
Where there is money to be made, there is business. And what a booming big business this is. In market speak the buying and selling of 'product H' is one of the fastest growing transnational industries in the world. In fact, there's more 'product H' in circulation than there's ever been. A lucrative trade spanning a vast spectrum of national capital markets, subject to neither trade regulations nor tax, there's no net profit- only gross- and what you make is what you get. There's team-work involved and you hardly ever see your boss, which is great. Thank God for that. Just you and like-minded individuals, working in a team, making money - lots of it - £89 million worth of an annual global profit or thereabouts. Where do I sign up?
But this is the tricky part - it's hard to track down a company email to make a prospective employee statement of interest. There's no address to send a job application. Trading in 'project H' is not 'a line of work' per se. It's a maze-like network not to be spoken of over dinner. The attraction is waning. Some minor flaws to the enterprise, but still there's money to be made, so what's the problem?
Here in all its stark reality, lies the central problem in the focus of our business binoculars. Satisfying demands for goods and services is our focal point in need of adjusting. 'Product H,' in all its market availability and 'free' circulation is a human person - 'H.' 'Product H' reaps boundless financial return in the market, being itself infinitely economically valuable.
It is true that 'Product H' is of boundless value - as some nameless victim, subject to untold misery and suffering somewhere by someone. Such vagueness denotes the steepness of the task that is victim identification and crime resolution; for Human Trafficking is a silent crime, with all too often silent and silenced victims. What's more, the Human subject as 'product' aptly enshrines the commoditization of the victims at the very heart of Human Trafficking. Market-speak demands abolition, for recognition of the value of the victim as a human person and not as a good, remains central to unearthing the players behind the jigsaw of this criminal activity that spans multi- jurisdictions, avoiding trade regulations and national laws in its wake, all the while grossly denying its central trade subject their due rights.
Flagged as an 'unethical' business practice among many, this label does not go far enough in denouncing the heinousness of trafficking crime as one that has illegitimacy and criminality stamped all over it. There is some way to travel before slavery is confined to the history books, but Britain is taking much-needed steps to stamp slavery out; most striking are the enhanced mechanisms for victim protection outlined in the Modern Slavery Bill, among which can be found such provisions as creating a statutory defence for those victims compelled to commit crimes under servitude. Placing the victim at the centre, Britain has tentatively tied the knots of the boot needed to stamp out modern-day slavery.
Something of an epidemic, there are alarmingly many more human persons subject to slavery today, right now and in this moment than there ever was during the entire history of the slave trade. The United Kingdom, in its legislative prowess, is 'leading the fight' we are told. Here is a war however, nowhere near akin to the volume of its Anti-Slavery predecessor which ravaged the world over. This is a silent war. It is however about time it was unmuted for the Modern Slavery Bill should be, and is promisingly set to be, the Bill to launch a thousand ships.
'An' befo I'd be a slave
I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to the Lord an' be free.'
(Inscription from the Liverpool International Slavery Museum)
This article has been written after attending the 'End Sexual Violence in Conflict' conference in London's Excel Centre.