Anti-Slavery Day - Girl sitting on the street with head in hands

Modern Slavery

Modern Slavery - (noun)

The recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation. It is a crime under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

When I saw this topic come up on my list, I did briefly question why I am writing a historic piece about the slave trade. I thought perhaps I was going to be calling out our ancestors for their questionable decisions and actions when it came to exploitation. I thought maybe I would be taking the moral high ground over how we are now so much more superior, worldly wise and in control. But no, I am in fact writing a piece about Modern Slavery, as in, slavery from the present-day perspective. Even though I am here, actually writing it, I still can’t quite believe it.

I was under the impression that slavery had been abolished in 1883, at least that is what we were taught in history class, but it didn’t take very much research to find that it was never really eradicated at all, it has simply hidden itself in plain sight. It is right here in our towns, our streets, our shops, our factories, even in our homes.

I wanted to start-off by explaining the context behind some of the words we use when we talk about Modern Slavery;

Slavery - where ownership is exercised over a person.

Servitude - the obligation to provide services imposed by coercion.

Forced or compulsory labour - work or service extracted from any person under the menace of a penalty and for which the person has not offered him or herself voluntarily.

How do we identify when someone is deemed to be in slavery? 

Someone is in slavery if they are:

  • Forced to work through mental or physical threat.
  • Owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse.
  • Dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’.
  • Physically constrained or have restrictions placed on his/her freedom.

What are the types of slavery?

Sexual exploitation – a person is forced to perform non-consensual or abusive sexual acts against their will, often working in prostitution, escorting and pornography.

Human trafficking - arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploiting them. Child trafficking involves persons under the age of 18.

Debt bondage - being forced to pay off unrealistic debts through work, crime or other endeavours that if they fail to repay, could be passed down to their children.

Forced labour – a person being forced to work against their will, often working long hours for little or no pay in awful conditions under the threat of physical or verbal abuse towards them or their families.

Criminal exploitation- victims are forced into crimes against their will, this can be anything from cannabis cultivation to pickpocketing and everything in between.

Domestic servitude – a person is forced into domestic servitude, made to carry-out housework and domestic chores in private households with little or no pay, restricted movement, limited or no free time and minimal privacy.

Definitions have a way of feeling a little cold and impersonal. I don’t think they really set the scene well enough. I want to conjure up the same emotional response for you that I experienced during my research, so let’s dive right in with some facts that go some way to providing some real-world context.

There are more slaves in the world today than there were during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Let’s just read that one again, read it aloud and speak up for those in the back of the room – that’s right folks there are more slaves in the world today than there was during the Transatlantic Slave Trade… Hands up if you are not completely floored by that fact alone. I sat there for a good few minutes, open mouthed, flabbergasted, I even had to rewind the video to hear it again because I was convinced that I had heard wrong.

Let’s not stop there, I have more for you;

Modern slavery affects an estimated 29.8 million people around the world.

Using the word million in short form almost undervalues the reality of the figures so I want to show you what that actually looks like, in numbers, with all of the zero’s in place - 29,800,000 people.

Still more...

1 in 4 of those affected will be a child.

One in four sounds pretty bad but when you do the math and realise that it means 7 million, 250 thousand children are currently victims of modern slavery around the world today, it is breath taking.

Researching for this post has proven to be a truly heart wrenching task, reading real-life accounts, watching promotional videos from organisations desperately trying to help and gathering some staggering statistics left me feeling appalled, astounded and downright disappointed with humanity as a race.

After a few deep breaths, a cup of tea and a couple of rants about the injustice of the world, my initial shock and outrage had settled itself into a simmering determined focus, to bring this information to the forefront and do what I can to enlist all of you to help in the fight against Modern Slavery.

As a community there are things we can do. We can be on the look-out for the signs of slavery even though there really is no typical profile or stereotype that you could point to.

In 2018 nearly a quarter of all trafficking victims found in the UK were British.

Trafficking does not just affect foreigners, despite what we might think, or what the UK media portrays. The dark world of slavery in all of its despicable forms really can affect anyone, it transcends age, gender and ethnicity but there are common identifiers that highlight when something isn’t quite right. Have you noticed anyone who may be affected in the following ways:

Physical appearance: Look for signs of physical or psychological abuse; malnourished, unkempt, withdrawn.

Isolation: Are they allowed to travel on their own, do they seem to be under the control of someone? Do they interact with others and are they familiar with the area?

Poor living conditions: Are they living in a dirty, cramped or over-cramped accommodation? Do they live and work at the same address?

Personal items: Do they seem to wear the same clothes all of the time, do they have many possessions?

Identity: Do they have access to their identification documents? Do they share an email address with someone else? Are their bank details in someone else’s name?

Avoidance: Do they avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers?

If you are concerned for the welfare of a person or group of people, or if you suspect that modern slavery is happening near you, you can report it in many ways:

  • In emergency situations – always contact the police.
  • In the UK you can contact the Modern Slavery helpline anonymously and free of charge from landlines and most mobiles. 0800 0121 700.
  • Report your suspicions online using the dedicated home office website https://modernslavery.co.uk/contact.html

Importantly, please do not attempt to let the victim know that you have or are going to report your suspicions. Please do not confront anyone involved, you need to ensure their safety and your own.

Download our Modern Slavery factsheet here.

How useful did you find this article?
Thank you for your feedback!
5.0 / 5.0