Herald View: Why we must all be vigilant in the fight to end slavery
SLAVERY, an emotive word, is something we thought consigned to the past. But, today, it appears to be alive and well-funded, largely through its association with human trafficking. Whips may not be cracked on backs. Bodies may not swing from trees. But, often, there is violence or its threat. And, always, there is subjugation, exploitation, coercion and control.
The scale of the problem has been revealed by the National Crime Agency (NCA), which says every large town and city in the UK is affected. It is, says the agency, “far more prevalent than previously thought”, with previous estimates of 10,000 to 13,000 victims now considered to be the tip of the iceberg. Hardened policeofficers have been shocked by the scale of it – and have warned that ordinary people might not have to look too far to find it themselves.
The criminal gangs, exploiting globalisation to generate massive profits internationally, have widened their areas of economic activity beyond drugs and prostitution. While the most common malpractices remain sexual exploitation, criminal activity and domestic servitude, the NCA has also highlighted other sectors such as food processing, fishing, agriculture, construction, care work, car washes, and nail bars.
These are areas with which we might come into contact in our everyday lives, and the NCA has called for vigilance and the reporting of anything suspicious to the authorities. Obviously, this has to be kept in perspective, as there are many legitimate foreign workers in these sectors. But suspicious signs outlined by the NCA include visible signs of injuries, a distressed appearance and unusual methods of transportation to the workplace.
Victims of traffickers may have been lured into effective bondage by hollow promises of jobs, education or marriage. The worst affected live truly hellish lives. Not feeling in control is said to be the root of all stress. Usually, in our literature, it refers to short-term problems with the office, relationship or mortgage. But the loss of control occasioned by trafficking causes life-long trauma.
Cherie Blair, in her capacity as human rights barrister and anti-slavery campaigner, has said of trafficking that “rather like child abuse in the past, it’s always been there but people were not aware of it”. Well, they are now.
As indeed is the UK Government. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, promised a crackdown. That was four years ago. The problem has got worse. Amnesty International has described the Government’s approach as “not fit for purpose”. But it’s not just up to government. It is a problem for all of us.
THERE are tens of thousands of people in Britain living in slavery, according to the National Crime Agency.
The UK-wide serious crime unit said there were human beings treated as commodities, and forced to work for little or nothing in “every large town and city in the country”.
NCA operatives are currently assisting on 300 live police operations targeting modern slavery, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe.
Will Kerr, NCA director of vulnerabilities, said: “The more that we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable.
“The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone previously thought.
“This should not be acceptable in any way, shape or form.”
Kerr’s comments come as the NCA launched an advertising campaign raising awareness of the signs of modern slavery in everyday life.
He said there were “lots of different outlets” for people trafficked into the UK to be working illegally and against their will, with many affecting people in everyday life.
Kerr said examples included those working at car washes and in construction as well as in agriculture and food processing — often receiving very little pay and forced to put up with poor living conditions.
He said the most common nationality of victims brought into the UK were people from Eastern Europe, Vietnam and Nigeria.
But he also cited one example of a 12-year-old Roma girl being stopped at border control, bound for a life as a domestic slave.
He said it underlined the sheer scale of the problem authorities were facing, further complicated by the fact some people do not realise they are a victim of slavery. He added: “People are being exploited on an hourly and daily basis.
“The full scale and extent of it, we don’t know. But what we have found is that in every medium-to-large town and every city in the UK, we have found evidence of vulnerable people being exploited.
“We can’t put a figure on it but we can say there are tens of thousands of victims across the UK.”
Earlier this year, the NCA released figures which showed the number of suspected victims of slavery and human trafficking had more than doubled in three years.
There were 3805 people reported as potential victims in 2016, an increase from 1,745 in 2013, according to NCA statistics.
A recent BBC documentary suggested Eastern European crime gangs were repeatedly forcing trafficked women into sexual exploitation and sham marriages in Glasgow.
The women, who are EU citizens were lured to the UK with false promises, leaving poverty and deprivation in countries such as Romania and Slovakia with the prospect of a well-paid job in Scotland.
Europol say the gangsters work with Asia gangs and force the women to marry men to give them residency.
Angelika Molnar from Europol’s Human Trafficking unit said people were now the second most lucrative criminal commodity in Scotland after drugs.
Last month the Scottish Government unveiled plans to give the police and courts greater powers to target human traffickers.
The Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Orders allow courts to stop people convicted of slavery offences recruiting staff, working with children and vulnerable people or travelling to certain countries for a minimum of five years.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said Scotland should be a “hostile place” for modern slavers.