Over the last few months a number of news stories have shone a spotlight on modern slavery in the UK, underlining how it continues to be one of the most serious humanitarian crises facing our society.
In light of the coverage, the Town Hall has confirmed its commitment to tackling this pressing and often overlooked emergency, also outlining its strategy of how it will undertake this work to the Citizen.
The pandemic has upended the working lives of the majority of adults in the UK and the disruptive impact has led to a rise in public discussions about employment rights and conditions for workers in almost every sector.
Employers’ responsibilities to their staff, the unionisation of workplaces, in addition to health and safety legislation have been increasingly scrutinised and debated.
Against this backdrop a renewed focus on modern slavery in the UK could not be more timely, given that as these discussions have taken place countless numbers of people are facing serious exploitation and abuse within places of work as well as their home environments.
Hestia is one of the UK’s leading charities working to support survivors of modern slavery. It defines modern slavery as “a serious crime in which people are coerced or deceived into a situation where they are exploited, for the purpose of making a profit”.
The charity adds that modern slavery “takes many forms, including trafficking for sexual exploitation (including prostitution, strip clubs, escort work and pornography), domestic servitude (including working as cleaners, carers or nannies) and forced labour in work such as nail bars and car washes”.
In July, the Sunday Times published an undercover report from a factory in Leicester which alleged that scores of workers were manufacturing clothes in unlawful conditions for various retailers.
The alleged experiences of these workers are analogous of the plight of innumerable people across the UK whose exploitation remains hidden in plain sight, whose working conditions are marred by cultures of fear and intimidation and who do not possess the employment rights bestowed on workers by UK law.
Although in recent times there has been broad cross-party support for addressing modern slavery, with a range of MPs stating their commitment to combatting this crisis, the nature and complexity of modern slavery means no single agency in the UK has a clear picture of the overall scale of the crisis.
In the Home Office’s Modern Slavery Report 2019, the government states that its most accurate estimate of those affected by modern slavery is between 10,000-13,000. In contrast, research by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) suggests the true figure is likely to far exceed the Home Office’s estimate.
In its report, It Still Happens Here: Fighting UK Slavery in the 2020s, CSJ hypothesises that the actual number is more likely to be upwards of 100,000.
Elsewhere, in a story which attracted considerable interest from a range of global news outlets, a missing Lithuanian man, who had disappeared in Cambridgeshire five years previously and had been feared murdered, was recently found living in a forest area.
The news raised more concerns about the prevalence of modern slavery in the UK.
Whilst the circumstances of the case are still being investigated by police, it has been noted that the missing man may have been the victim of modern slavery.
Det Ch Insp Hall, who is overseeing the case, said: “There were genuine concerns Ricardas came to harm [when he went missing]. He did not return to work on Monday 28 September 2015 as expected, but we now believe Ricardas made the decision to run away as he had been a victim of crime, having previously been subject to exploitation.”
In light of all of this national coverage, Hackney Council told the Citizen that tackling modern slavery in the borough is a priority.
A spokesperson stated “The council has signed up to the Co-operative Party’s Charter Against Modern Slavery to ensure we are proactively ensuring modern slavery does not exist in our supply chain.
“We are committed to ensuring that everyone should be able to live a safe and happy life, free from slavery and exploitation in all its forms.”
In August 2019, the Town Hall developed a Modern Slavery Strategy which provides information about the types of modern slavery; how both the public and professionals can identify the signs; the organisations that can provide support; and the law on modern slavery.
The report also details the Town Hall’s four main aims in tackling the issue, which are to establish strong leadership and effective partnerships; raise public awareness; identify and support survivors; and to pursue perpetrators of modern slavery.
In addition, the Mayor of Hackney and the council’s chief executive issued a statement reiterating the local authroity’s commitment to tackling modern slavery and human trafficking, detailing the actions that will be taken to protect all council employees and the wider community.
Eradicating modern slavery remains one of the most considerable challenges facing our society, and it must continue to be a crucial concern of both the Town Hall and central government.
To report a suspicion or seek advice, you can contact the Modern Slavery Helpline confidentially on 08000 121 700
You can also report an incident to the Metropolitan police by calling 101