✏️ Joe Wilkinson
How many people do you think are characterised as living in the conditions of modern slavery in the UK right now? Maybe a few hundred? Surely that’s not something that happens in the UK. Wrong. 136,000. Yet the question of why this is happening is not being asked. This seems bizarre to me, so I’m writing this article to raise awareness.
There is no one way, but migrants are a group most at risk of being trapped in slavery in the UK. The majority that become enslaved enter the UK legally, lured through promises of work and a better life. However, when they arrive in the UK their documents are taken so they can’t escape. This problem is only increasing as employers look to cut costs and try to find the cheapest possible workers. They are able to easily exploit people as the UK has a very flexible labour market where pay can be linked to job performance and people work on zero hours contracts.
Where are the enslaved?
Enslaved people are found in many employment sectors, with studies suggesting they work in construction, agriculture, domestic work and the sex industry. However, they are also found in sectors that you might not expect such as social and health care where people may be employed legally but are exploited by things like low pay and long working hours.
I found a story of two enslaved Vietnamese men, which brought home how close I might have been to modern slavery. These men came to the UK legally to work in a hotel and had paid £18,000 each for that privilege. When they arrived, their passports were taken and they were forced to work in the hotel for no pay whatsoever. When these men tried to strike, their families in Vietnam were threatened. They are so scared of what might happen to their families that they won’t seek help from the Vietnamese Embassy. Maybe someone reading this has stayed at this very hotel. Take a second to think about how alarming that thought is.
Before I started to research for this article, I had an idea in my mind of what the UK government was doing to tackle modern slavery; not very much. However, for the benefit of this article I decided to read the UK government’s latest annual report on Modern Slavery. I went straight to the section on prevention. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the government’s first prevention technique is to fund research into how to prevent modern slavery. However, when I looked closer, the proposals given are vague and meandering with a mere £10 million pledged towards a new Policy and Evidence Centre.
The next section of the report is “Raising Awareness of Modern Slavery”. Again, this seems like a good idea but when I stop and think about it, how many times have I seen an Anti-Slavery advert on my social media? I’m struggling to remember even one.
I could write a dissertation picking apart every flimsy proposal the government has put forward, but that would become tedious for you. So you’re going to have to take my word for it. After reading this report, it is clear to me that the government has been using all the right phrases. However, dig even a centimetre under the surface and you can see that their priorities are elsewhere.
What can we do to fight it?
As young people, the first thing we can do is lobby the government to take this matter seriously. As a community we know the power of social media; creating hashtags, online petitions spread through social media and articles about government inaction off the back of these things have an effect.
This problem can only be defeated if we start talking about it. Take Climate Change for example. A social media war, thousands of petitions, and young people such as Greta Thunberg have put this issue at the forefront of the political agenda. We must do the same thing with Modern Slavery.
We can also look for the signs of slavery in our own lives. The indicators of slavery have been set out by the Modern Slavery Helpline:
- People who look malnourished, have physical injuries or appear nervous and agitated
- People who don’t travel alone and seem to be under the influence of others
- People who are collected or dropped off at work at weird times
- People who seem frightened and won’t make eye contact or talk to strangers
These are only some of the indicators. If you fear that someone is displaying these indicators and is in immediate danger then please call 999. However, if you don’t see the threat as immediate then call Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700.
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