This week saw the publication of a ground breaking report, 'It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery' by The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
The report says there is a "shocking" failure in the UK to prevent the spread of modern slavery, leading to sexual exploitation, forced labour and the domestic servitude of adults and children from across the world, in this country.
It makes shocking reading, and I hope this report is a turning point in history, a landmark in tackling modern day slavery.
Many people will find it shocking to think that the UK could be home to modern day slavery, and some will want to go into denial, In response I would like to recant my awakening to the ugliness of this most socially unjust issue happening in our neighbourhoods. I was at a playground in London's Chelsea, one Sunday, with our children.
During our visit I noticed a lady obsessively staring at our son. Being rather unnerved by her attention I approached her and asked why she was staring at him. Tears came to her eyes as she said she had also had a son about the same age that she had not seen for three years. We began talking and I learnt that she worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week looking after the house and children of a local family and was paid £60 weekly which she sent back home. She had not been given a day off in three years and her employers had taken her passport away. She was shouted at, beaten and the children spat at her, hit her and pulled her hair. I asked why she had not left or run away. She said because her boss had told her that without a passport she would be put in prison by the British police for many years and would never see her children. Our conversation was cut short as the designer clad children she looked after came over and said they wanted to go home.
I could not get this story out of my mind and started doing some research into human trafficking. I was already aware of the sexually exploitative nature of trafficking and slavery, as Miller Philanthropy had begun funding the exceptional work being done by Barnardos around sexual exploitation the year before. The more I researched, the more charity websites I visited, the more I began to realised that most of us only know the tip of the iceberg, and that the magnitude and brutality of the victimisation is staggering and is going on right under our noses.
On the back of this experience, I was introduced to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a non-partisan organisation that aims to put social justice at the heart of British politics. It works with a wide range of stakeholders - academics, charities - large and small, NGOs, local and central government, and organises evidence boards to gather wisdom from those working to tackle Britain's deepest social problems; as well as hearing from those whose lives are being affected by poverty, and in this case modern-day slavery.
At the CSJ I found likeminded passionate funders, supporters and staff who understand that long term change in society need to be tackled systemically and not just with shorter term aim of plastering of the cracks; although short term care is also vital for the victims of social injustice.
The CSJ's reports aim to provide toolkits that can reverse social breakdown and transform communities. This report into Modern Day Slavery is pivotal and some of its findings are that:
- A change in language is needed to drive change in policy. Slavery is the control of one person over another - usually accompanied by violence. Trafficking is more the shipping of people illegally; it is more a euphemism instead of a description of the most depraved phenomenon in modern society.
- It is a fundamental abuse of basic human rights that is being incorrectly viewed as an immigration issue. Modern slavery is first and foremost a crime and not an immigration issue.
- The issues are complex and require recommendations such as the Enactment of a Transparency of Supply Chains Act. The recent horse meat scandal highlighted what can be hidden without supply chain transparency and look how appalled we all were. Imagine uncovering how many slaves went into manufacturing the products that sustain your lifestyle? The Slavery Footprint website is a good place to start to get to grips with this issue.
- To bring effective leadership there should be an Anti-Slavery Commissioner to oversee and impact the UK's response to the problem; free from political influence.
- Academics believe that globally, this issue will overtake the drugs industry within 10 years as the biggest criminal activity. But in the UK, due to the rigours of the border and immigration controls we have in place, this issue can be effectively eradicated. However, if it goes unchecked and swept under the carpet it will grow and eat away at the very heart of our society.
This evidence based report from the CSJ, although brutally shocking, affords shafts of light and hope.
For Miller Philanthropy, it has been a humbling and heart wrenching experience to be involved with this report and to have had the privilege of funding it. But this report is a vision, now the real work begins with politicians, charities, local and central government, and communities needing to take action to end the scourge of modern-day slavery. We need joined up thinking and working and that requires resources and a determination to lead change.
The Report may well be the most uncomfortable read you will ever encounter but these are desperately uncomfortable issues happening right under our noses, in our backstreets, in our communities. I urge you to seek out this report and become aware and involved. There is nothing more socially unjust than this issue and the ugliness of it should shame us all. We all need to be aware and vigilant to this blight on our society.
"All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke