As a blogger, I receive a variety of communications alerting me of what’s happening, some relevant and some less so (recently I have been invited to events for entrepreneurs based in Leicester, and as “a guest of honour” to attend a big fair about Muslim lifestyle in Manchester). One of these communications was a press release about a book, Dangerous Score, being re-released by the author Michael Bearcroft in partnership with Hope for Justice, which will receive £1 out of every sale of the book.
Over 10000 people in the UK (out of 21 million worldwide) are estimated to be living in modern-day slavery, with the trafficking of humans being the third largest source of illegal income after drugs and arms dealing.
Just this week the subject of the Google doodle was famed freed slave and champion of the abolitionist cause in the UK, Olaudah Equiano, on of many people being celebrated this October as part of Black History Month (we are towards the end already, but Croydon has a full calendar of events, and the Croydon Citizen has published an article on one of the talks that already happened). It’s easy to think of slavery as something of the past, or something far away (we’re all likely familiar with the stories of sweat shops in Bangladesh and fast fashion brands). To think of it happening on our doorsteps, as it’s the case for the protagonist of this novel, is frightening, and yet it’s the daily reality of the many people Hope for Justice are trying to reach (and it was the reality of the 350 people already successfully rescued in the UK). it has been estimated that Central Londoners are never more than a mile away from a brothel with trafficked sex workers, mainly women but not necessarily (within 3 miles in the city at large).
I can’t speak much of the merits of the novel, as I haven’t read it, but modern-day slavery is a cause that is dear to my heart. It has been the one cause who probably defined Theresa May the most as Home Secretary and now Prime Minister. One of my favourite clothing brands (sadly, unlike the Duchess of Cambridge, beyond my budget) is Beulah, whose mission is also to defeat modern-day slavery in partnership with YouCanFreeUs. Among the many things that they do, they run a beautiful photography project: #SheIs.
They focus on the sex trade, but it’s not all that there is to modern-day slavery.
I’m a firm believer in consumer activism, and how our purchasing choices affect what happens in the world. According to a study done by the Ethical Trading Initiative, 71 %of companies believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery occurring in their supply chains. This is not just the haunting image of children as young as I was working in low-lit workshops 14 hours a day making our trainers in Taiwan that have been with me since I was little. Fashion is the most well known and easier culprit. For example, coffee is another big area, with Nestlé coming clean about risk on Brazilian plantations just last year. As I tend to consume coffee more than I buy clothes (one of my New Year’s Resolution was a shopping ban, however even if I bought clothes every week my caffeine consumption would beat it *gets up and makes a coffee*), it’s one I’m most likely to accidentally support. While I’m probably safe with 90% of my shopping decisions at the supermarket, I go on trust when eating out more than I probably should do.
This is one of the main reasons people call for legislation and changes in policy, but having witnessed just how much the law gets broken I don’t think legislation is the end all be all of solving problems. A change in culture is. However, that isn’t to say that there isn’t a role for policy (it can even help changing culture), but we need to be mindful of its limitations. Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 itself is about the key role of businesses in the fight against slavery. This might sound over-optimistic to the cynics among us: businesses have to make money, and as long as people want cheap things readily available the problem will not be solved. However, a lot of change has been achieved by peer pressure among industry leaders, as competition is what drives a market and nobody wants their competitors to be better than them. M&S are at the forefront of supply chain transparency, so the nation’s underwear needs are met, and the Co-Op went even further, partnering with yet another charity (City Hearts) and providing employment to victims of trafficking. This isn’t just a supply chain issue: the report from St Mary’s University linked above states that “companies most advanced in their thinking then, are not viewing modern slavery issues as aberrations within their otherwise ‘clean’ supply chains, but as larger issues of human rights violations that occur within various socio-economic circumstances as well as exacerbated by their own practices and failures of oversight.”
There are various degrees of implication in modern-day slavery, all of which are to be found in the UK. It wasn’t long ago that a scandal involving workers’ conditions at Sports Direct surfaced.
As with every time I bring up an issue of social justice, there will come a number of people asking how come the baby-eating Tories now claim they have a heart. Since the 1830s the British government has been pursuing legislation to improve workers’ conditions, starting with child labour, alongside a growing trade unionist movement. It would be decades before large swaths of the movement would become politicised and identified with an emerging new party in particular, which now claims they invented the moral high ground. Humanitarianism was a cross-party interest then, and it is a cross-party interest now. It’s not something new or something we have taken from the Left for mere electioneering. We have a proud history rooted in Christianity to look back to. So today I urge you, Christian or not, Tory or not, to do something about modern-day slavery. If you like a good thriller novel, buy Dangerous Score and support a charity, but there’s a lot more that you can do if that’s not your cup of tea. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments so everyone can be inspired by what you do. It’s also a very good time to watch (or re-watch) Amazing Grace for a bit of uplifting, feel good time and inspiration to do more ourselves.