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Slavery isn’t really a big issue in the UK is it?

A common misconception here in the UK is that ‘modern slavery’ doesn’t really exist, or if it does then it relates only to a small number of migrant workers in nail bars and car washes.

A recent study of the financial services industry found that “modern slavery currently affects around 130,000 people in the UK, part of a global business that touches 40 million people worldwide and generates profits of around USD150 billion each year.”

Exploitation and shame

In 2020 an ONS Report indicates how the nature of the crime makes it hard to know the extent of the problem as victims are often hidden away. They may be unable to leave their situation or feel shame and unable to come forward.

Recent examples of news reports illustrate the problem:
2 out of 190 reports of modern slavery reports resulted in convictions in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire
Almost 30 modern slavery victims found every day in the UK in 2020
• Even the long-running Radio 4 drama ‘The Archers’ has a storyline about a popular local builder who was using unpaid labour

What is ‘modern slavery’?

Modern slavery comes in many different forms – including human trafficking but not limited to it. Servitude and forced or compulsory labour is used in many different industries. A 2018 report on the construction industry indicates that construction is the second most exploitation-prone industry in the EU – and the construction industry employs approximately 7% of the global workforce. The most exploitation-prone industry involves those working in the sex industry.

It’s usually serious, organised crime exploiting people for profit. Unfortunately, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is often low on the agenda for organisations. Compliance with the Act is not seen as a positive attribute to a business and tends to be a ‘tick box exercise’. The problem of modern slavery is not acknowledged as being a priority. A recent study of financial institutions found a general “failure to recognise that financial institutions can be complicit in these crimes by not making the link between the traffickers and their bank accounts or fund managers’ investment in businesses that use forced labour.” Over 36% of employees surveyed believed that they and their organisations had no influence on the issue.

How to tackle the issue?

The UK government does have some strategies in place to tackle modern slavery and brings together resources, primarily targeted at businesses to highlight their responsibilities in all aspects of their business and supply chain:

However, everyone needs to be aware of the issue – the storyline in the radio 4 drama brings it into our own homes. It may be fiction, but it is meticulously researched and evidence-based. This is a modern-day issue that we all should be aware of in our own homes and businesses. In raising awareness of this issue, we hope in some small part that we can start the ball rolling.


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