Theresa May and the Conservative party have previously been attacked by critics for allegedly returning Britain to a class-based, Dickensian replica of its former self. Seemingly endless austerity measures, a high cost-of-living, and a perceived ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor have all contributed to accusations of an entrenched class system reemerging in the UK, however; it may be that an even more archaic, sinister, and worrisome social practice is returning with an alarming frequency – slavery. More and more organisations are calling attention to the disturbing rise of slavery and exploitation in Britain, but just how deep does this problem go?
Recent statistics from multiple agencies and organisations paint a depressing picture; a staggering 3,805 victims were referred to the UK government in 2016 alone. Even more worryingly, although perhaps unsurprisingly, the NSPCC claims that a third of victims of modern slavery in Britain are children. They also claim that the majority of child slaves originate from the UK, Albania, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The most common uses for child slaves are labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, and drug trafficking. For the past four years, the UK has been shocked by a recent string of prosecutions of child prostitution gangs who had acted with impunity for years, predominantly beginning after the Rotherham scandal was exposed.
The most recent investigation into modern slavery relates to a recent report that car washing businesses are regularly exploiting workers. The Car Wash Advisory Service estimates that there are between 10,000 and 20,000 hand car washes currently operating in the UK, and although most follow legal requirements, hand car washes appear to be one of the most frequent users of slave labour, as well as potentially polluting the environment through improper procedures. Because of this, the Environment Audit Committee is currently investigating the environmental and labour practices of car washes. The head of the EAC, Labour MP Mary Creagh, states that car washes often use “bonded labour” from Eastern Europe, where workers were tricked into the promise of a job.
A sad pattern has emerged from interviews with victims of these kinds of practices. Typically, workers are lured with promises of well-paying jobs, often by citizens of their own countries. They are told to pay a deposit to a ‘company’ (often a human trafficking gang) to cover their travel costs. On arrival, victims frequently have their passports confiscated from them and are then forced to work unpaid in order to ‘pay back the debts’ to the trafficking gangs. As can be imagined, the debts are never seen as paid and the arrangements often only end when authorities are alerted to the situation.
It appears that the situation will continue to be a pressing issue for the foreseeable future. Charities such as ECPAT UK have condemned the government for failing in its promises to curb the rise of domestic slavery and protect victims of the practice. Shockingly, Kevin Hyland, the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, claimed that “Only 1% of victims of slavery have a chance to see their exploiter brought to justice.” This implies that the vast majority of perpetrators, in addition to going unpunished, have the opportunity to repeat the process over again with new victims.
Whether the victims are young British girls or newly arrived foreign workers, it is clear that we must be increasingly on the look-out for signs of exploitation. If you fear someone you know may be being exploited, please call the UK slavery hotline: 0800 0121 700
Sources: https://www.antislavery.org/reports-and-resources/research-reports/slavery-uk-reports/ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2017-uk-annual-report-on-modern-slavery https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/child-trafficking/legislation-policy-guidance/
Featured Image Credits: The Guardian