Slav­ery is on the rise – take a look around

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - AGENDA - An­neDyer

Iam a per­son very care­ful with money and I love a bar­gain. I am de­lighted if I can find some­thing that is cheaper than ex­pected. I shop around, and can tell the value of things. It is a good day for me when I come across an item that I have wanted for some time at a greatly re­duced cost. I know that I am not alone, there are many other bar­gain hun­ters like me out there. How­ever, there is an­other side to the ready avail­abil­ity of cheaper goods or ser­vices. There are times when we should ask the ques­tion: why is this so cheap?

Re­cently I was in con­ver­sa­tion with a se­nior of­fi­cer from Po­lice Scot­land. We were speak­ing about mod­ern slav­ery in the UK. The of­fi­cer told me slav­ery is on the in­crease, and that the re­al­ity is that there are many more slave work­ers here than the of­fi­cial fig­ures sug­gest. I asked why this was. The of­fi­cer replied: ‘ Well, British peo­ple like cheap things’. Then the of­fi­cer con­tin­ued to tell me how those who are slaves are very close to us, of­ten hid­den in plain sight.

We are aware that slav­ery is a sig­nif­i­cant part of our na­tion’s past. The story of the abo­li­tion of slav­ery, in­clud­ing the roles played by the churches, is some­thing that we can rightly be proud of. And yet this in­sid­i­ous prac­tice of en­slav­ing and own­ing hu­man be­ings is again on the rise.

In the last cou­ple of weeks our at­ten­tion has been on the dread­ful tragedy of the deaths in the con­tainer lorry in Es­sex. As the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has con­tin­ued, we have all had the op­por­tu­nity to learn more about the mod­ern slave routes across Europe, and to ap­pre­ci­ate more fully how slav­ery is a global busi­ness that preys on peo­ple who are poor and vul­ner­a­ble. We can see how young peo­ple are easy to ex­ploit and why so many of the slaves iden­ti­fied in the UK are un­der 35. They are brought into this coun­try and then dis­ap­pear into the black econ­omy.

Most of the slaves in the UK have been traf­ficked from over­seas, but there are a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of UK na­tion­als who are slaves. Forced slave labour is found in in­dus­tries like agri­cul­ture, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and con­struc­tion. Slav­ery is com­mon in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try. Slaves can be work­ers in nail bars and car washes, while some are forced to beg on the streets. And, sadly, many women and girls are traf­ficked for the sex in­dus­try. Wher­ever they work, the re­sults are ei­ther in­creased prof­its for those ex­ploit­ing the slaves, or cheaper goods, or both. The ma­jor­ity of slaves are young and many are chil­dren.

The deaths in Es­sex have alerted us afresh to this is­sue, and many of us will be won­der­ing how it is that one per­son can look on an­other and see a com­mod­ity, some­one who is not a per­son but some­thing to be bought or sold. There are all kinds of mo­ti­va­tions for this, but along­side the de­sire for fi­nan­cial gain there is the abil­ity to dis­miss peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent in some way.

Slaves are seen by those who trade them as not worth the same re­spect and care as ev­ery­one else. When peo­ple are seen as sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent, in some way, then, it is easy to think of them dif­fer­ently. They are peo­ple to be used, not peo­ple to be re­spected and given full hu­man rights, the rights that we should ex­pect for ev­ery per­son.

If we find slav­ery ab­hor­rent then there are things that we can do to re­sist this steadi­ly­in­creas­ing, abu­sive prac­tice. For ex­am­ple, we can pay at­ten­tion to those who work around us. If we pay close at­ten­tion we might en­counter those for whom some­thing just does not look right. If the con­text is such that we are re­ceiv­ing a very cheap ser­vice of some kind, or are be­ing of­fered some­thing to buy that is ex­traor­di­nar­ily cheap, then we might won­der if there has been slav­ery or ex­ploita­tion in­volved some­where along the sup­ply chain.

When we can see such bar­gains be­fore us then we have to make a choice. If we pur­chase the item or ser­vice, then we are buy­ing into a sys­tem of abuse, and so par­tic­i­pat­ing in it to some de­gree.

Two hun­dred years ago peo­ple in Scot­land un­der­stood why the pur­chase of sugar and to­bacco were po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues. They un­der­stood that in the pro­duc­tion of these much-loved com­modi­ties hu­man be­ings were ex­ploited. They raised their voices, and changed shop­ping habits. They lob­bied par­lia­ment and pushed for changes in the law so that all peo­ple, what­ever their place in the sup­ply chain, could be pro­tected. It is time for us to have such an aware­ness with re­gard to mod­ern slav­ery. The Rt Rev Anne Dyer is Epis­co­palian Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney and Scot­land’s first fe­male bishop

They are brought into this coun­try and then dis­ap­pear into the black econ­omy

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