Saturday, July 25, 2020

Modern Slavery in the UK

 A human rights barrister and world-leading expert on human trafficking, Parosha Chandran,  said she is not surprised that a study this month calculated there are 100,000 victims of modern slavery in Britain. “The thing about slavery is that it’s a vastly hidden crime,” she says. “There are control mechanisms that are used very effectively by enslavers and traffickers to keep people quiet and to make victims fear going forward to the authorities to ask for help.”

Garment and food factories in Leicester, where as many as 10,000 mostly immigrant workers are reportedly paid as little as £3 an hour in some cases and have been forced to work with no protective equipment, have contributed to a spike in Covid-19 cases and the second lockdown in the city. “I think this is an example of the type of exploitation that has been going on up and down the country during Covid,” she says.  “If that’s the estimate of what’s happening in Leicester, then what’s happening in Birmingham? Or Nottinghamshire? Or Manchester? Or London? Modern slavery is not just confined to one place in the Midlands. It’s going on everywhere, therefore there needs to be a robust response to it..."

She says victims are often made to wrongly believe they had a hand in their own fate. “In legal terms, consent is irrelevant where a person was deceived, forced, threatened or coerced, but of course victims don’t know that, so it’s really critical that there are trained officials who are able to identify victims, wherever they may be found.” 

That could be an immigration raid, a workplace inspection, detection by the police or even cases where a GP has a patient who they suspect might be a victim of exploitation. 

Despite it being a criminal offence to use someone for forced labour, “the police have not been mobilised quickly enough in these cases,” Chandran says. “By the time inspectors go in – if there’s a lapse of time – all of the workers will have been threatened not to say anything to anyone coming in. What needs to happen is a swift response.”

Chandran has worked tirelessly to ensure that both the law and police understand the vulnerability of exploited individuals who are sometimes forced to commit crimes.

Uganda has “the first modern slavery bill in the world that directly criminalises labour recruitment companies for human trafficking and forced labour,” she says. In comparison, she says, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 in the UK was written with an eye on criminalising the acts not of companies or corporations but rather individuals.

Chandran believes the Black Lives Matter movement offers an important opportunity to educate young people about modern slavery in Britain, and she wants to create a programme on modern slavery for schools that can highlight the dangers and increase social awareness.

“The education of children is extremely important, so they can be aware of what is going on with modern slavery in Britain and can be aware of the risks, including who they might turn to if they or a friend get into a situation of difficulty. With trafficking and modern slavery, particularly of children, we always need to be one step ahead of the abusers, so we need to continuously and carefully understand how they abuse, who they abuse and then cut off the supply.”

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