‘What you do locally has an impact globally’
Modern-day slavery, also known as human trafficking, is one of the greatest injustices of our time. Despite popular belief, it is not a new phenomenon – in fact, there are more humans living in slavery now than ever before in human history. Estimates reach up to over 50 million, which includes the UK, cited as the ‘hallmark’ country for the abolition of slavery. In reality, slavery has just changed clothes. Official estimates are between 10-13,000, whereas recent research puts it much higher at around 136,000 throughout the UK. Behind the statistics, we’re talking about human lives here. Its face is ever-evolving, far more discreet and shrouded in secrecy.
Learning from the frontline
Earlier this year, I spent three months working at the A21 Campaign in a volunteer capacity. If you’ve never heard of A21, I highly recommend checking them out. Before I started out there, I took part in the global Walk for Freedom along the streets of Brighton as a way to raise awareness to the cause. It’s the biggest march against trafficking, and as a global initiative they have over 450 walks worldwide. On that note – you can join them this year on October 19th!
It was a strangely moving experience as we walked in solidarity one behind the other, dressed all in black, in silence, holding boards displaying stats and facts. What was most interesting however, was the reaction we received from the public. Some looked away, apparently disinterested and unengaged. Others gazed at the stream of people walking through, and it was clear we had grasped their attention at the least. A few even hurled abuses, which wasn’t offensive as such, but surprising. After all, it must have caused an affront to the individual to provoke such a response. Slavery is offensive. And declaring the truth of slavery to people is also offensive.
What does trafficking look like in the UK?
Despite the fact that it’s a legal requirement that all businesses withhold a Modern Slavery Statement, trafficking is very much an integral part in supply chains and the everyday industries we interact with. But when talking to people, they didn’t seem to know. I got chatting to one lady at a Tube station who told me (perhaps a tad aggressively) that there were too many problems for us to deal with in the UK so trafficking shouldn’t be a priority. The more we chatted, the clearer it became that she didn’t actually know trafficking is an issue here in the UK. After that, our conversation took a different direction. It just goes to show that sometimes a difficult exchange can lead to some great things.
The existence of human trafficking presents a very complicated issue. After all, we’re talking about a human being’s life used and exploited as a business opportunity. It’s as if a person’s value can be commodified into currency. There are certain people that are targeted the most: those in refugee camps, the homeless, the less educated and those seeking employment while living in poverty. In addition to the underlying economic structure, are the psychological influences at play. For instance Stockholm Syndrome explains why people remain loyal to those who hold them captive. And that is why the statistic stands at just 2% for those who survive their trafficking past. But just because this case is complex does not mean it is impossible. Instead, it should stir us to want to do more, care more and invite others to do the same. Living with the mantra that what we do locally has a global impact is the best start.