Yesterday the Centre for Social Justice think tank launched a major new report investigating the state of modern slavery in the UK and beyond. The report finds that Britain’s efforts to stop human trafficking are in a state of crisis and desperately in need of an overhaul. I wasn’t able to attend the launch in London, but a journalist friend, Jennie Pollock did and has written this article in response to the event exclusively for God and Politics in the UK.
“Did you know,” asks Bill Bryson in his classic book about UK life Notes from a Small Island, “that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed sixty years after the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and as an offshoot of it?”
His tone is one of amused incredulity, but a similar attitude can still be seen today. While stories of battery chickens kept in cramped, unsanitary conditions can prompt strident complaints and lead to government action, how many of us made the same amount of fuss about the story in the news last year about men employed to tend chickens being kept in bonded labour, made to work up to 17 hours per day and forced to live in over-crowded, unsanitary homes? Those premium free-range eggs you bought in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and M&S were the product of slavery, right here in the UK. “The chickens were fine,” Fraser Nelson assured a packed room yesterday, “It’s their tenders who weren’t.”
Fraser was speaking at the launch of the Centre for Social Justice’s (CSJ’s) major report on slavery, entitled It Happens Here. Liberally sprinkled with case studies like the above, the report makes for sobering reading, but the tone of yesterday’s launch event was overwhelmingly one of hope. Yes, the need is great, yes it is complex and difficult and needs to be addressed on many different levels with huge cooperation from government, the police, social services, businesses and NGOs, but it could be done: we could end slavery worldwide in the next 25-30 years – sooner in the UK.
Kevin Bales, Co-Founder and former president of Free the Slaves, also spoke at the launch of the report. Having spent many years advising governments on how to tackle slavery, he said this report is “the only complete root and branch review” of a country’s legislation he has ever seen. Its recommendations constitute “a sound, thought-through approach”, not a piecemeal solution to existing piecemeal laws, he said.
From establishing a new Anti-Slavery Commissioner and passing a Modern Slavery Act, to equipping frontline professionals to recognise modern slavery, the report has lots of action points for those in power, but one thing William Wilberforce and co. realised was that top-down was not the only way to tackle slavery – attitudes had to shift from the ground up, too. Boycotting sugar produced by slave labour was one way the general population could get involved in overturning the slave trade in the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. What can you and I do today?
One way is simply to become aware of the extent of the issue. When asked why the CSJ report’s launch didn’t get much press coverage over the weekend, Fraser Nelson said ruefully that it’s because the issue doesn’t sell. The media is engaged in a ratings war. Stories about Justin Bieber making young girls cry by showing up late to a concert sell more papers than stories about young girls being groomed for sex then raped by 90 men over the course of a weekend. So action point one is ‘Read and Retweet’. Don’t turn a blind eye to the stories of exploitation, read them, feel the horror and tell someone else.
Another is to be aware of how it affects you. I’ve often heard mention of the website slaveryfootprint.org but to my shame had always shied away from it until today. By entering a few details about yourself and your lifestyle, you can find out how many slaves are involved in the supply chains bringing goods to your door. My number was 39. Fraser Nelson’s was ‘about 50’. As we’ve seen, it’s not easy to know which products are ‘slavery free’ and which are not – you’d have thought the more expensive free range eggs in Tesco would be a safe bet, wouldn’t you? Supporting legislation to make large businesses give transparent information about their supply chains will help, and buying Fairtrade goods and goods from small, local producers when possible is also a good start. So action point 2 is: Shop Local, and buy Fairtrade.
And finally, support the work of charities fighting to end slavery. You’ve got Google, use it. Action point 3 is simply this: Find out what you can do, and do it.
“People will die if reforms are not made,” Kevin Bales said today. Human lives are at stake, and it is time to act. The chickens are fine.
Jennie has also written a longer accompanying piece to this article on the Theos think tank website. She blogs at NewSong40 and has previously been Senior Editor of UK media and communications at Newfrontiers and also Researcher and Operations Manager for Theos.