We Need To Banish Slavery To The History Books

We Need To Banish Slavery To The History Books
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Slavery is an issue which is frequently misunderstood. The word conjures up images of a bleak and shameful period; a distant relic of a bygone era. Most would think it had been banished to the history books many decades ago.

This week Anti-Slavery Day was marked here and across the world. The uncomfortable truth is that slavery is more current than we would care to imagine. Although concealed in the shadows, its poisonous grip still has a hold on our country. This callous practice can be found in the most improbable of places. It could be happening on your doorstep - in your community, at a local business or on your street.

To some, the glittering lights of our glorious capital might seem an unlikely home for modern slavery. Yet London's victims, often hidden from sight, are thought to be in the thousands. Men, women and children made to work for hours on end and kept captive against their will in unimaginably cruel conditions.

Modern slavery can be found across a variety of sectors. In manufacturing, food processing, agriculture and the beauty industry. Some victims are forced into the sex trade or to serve wealthy households in London's most affluent postcodes. I recently met with a group of women who had been enslaved as domestic workers. During their horrific ordeal, their passports were taken away, they had to endure working exceptionally long hours, for which they weren't paid, and sometimes they were even deprived of food.

Whilst people are trafficked into the UK from hundreds of countries and every continent, British nationals are also affected. Statistics collected by the National Referral Mechanism - a system used to identify victims of human trafficking or modern slavery - showed that last year the UK featured as the third most prevalent country of origin.

Yesterday, Kevin Hyland OBE, Britain's independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, published his annual report. He found that victims are being failed, with only one per cent having the chance to see their exploiter brought to justice. Modern slavery devastates the lives of those who suffer it - we have to do better than that.

Last week, during his monthly question session, I asked the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, what measures the Metropolitan Police are taking to end modern slavery. In his answer, the Mayor revealed that a Modern Slavery Ambassador will be appointed in every London borough. I welcome this bold move and I hope it will help to stamp out the practice in our city. I have tabled a motion calling on the Mayor to make tackling modern slavery a priority for the work he does with London's business community.

Modern slavery should be everyone's business. Companies need to take responsibility for their supply chains and ensure that each worker involved is being treated in an ethical way. We can all play a part - if you are worried about someone's welfare, or suspect they might be a victim, you should inform the police as a matter of urgency.

Greater awareness will be an important tool and it is up to all of us to spread the word about this shocking reality. Every perpetrator needs to know that there is nowhere they can hide. Every victim needs to be assured that there is support available. I commend the London Evening Standard's powerful campaign which is pushing modern slavery up the agenda.

Yet, as modern slavery grows in the public's consciousness, reporting will undoubtedly increase. I am concerned that our overstretched police service will not have the capacity to pursue so many new leads. Police officer numbers have fallen to their lowest level in 30 years. It is vital that the government adequately funds our ailing police to guarantee they have the resources to combat modern slavery. The scale of the challenge it presents cannot be underestimated. It will not go away overnight but we must be hopeful that one day it will only live on in memory.

Jennette Arnold OBE AM is the London Labour Assembly Member for Hackney, Waltham Forest and Islington


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