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Modern slavery is bigger than it’s ever been in history.

Updated: May 25, 2021

In April 2021 ASIOX was honoured to host an online event with Kevin Hyland OBE, who served as the UK’s first Anti-Slavery Commissioner where he emphasised these words to convey the 40.3 million individuals believed to be living in slavery today (ILO & Walk Free Foundation, 2013). The event highlighted four points:

  1. What the terms ‘human trafficking’ and ‘modern slavery’ truly mean

  2. The importance of a multi-agency approach to identify and support victim/survivors

  3. The essential use of a person-centred approach to supporting survivors

  4. How we as global citizens and members of civil society can play a role in ending this global and local issue

The 2000 Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, aimed to create an internationally recognised definition of human trafficking, which was simplified by three parts: the act, the means, and the purpose.

The Act (What is done)? The Means (How it is done) ? The Purpose (Why it is done)?

Human trafficking is one form of modern slavery, which Kevin points out has become even more lucrative within this last year with the COVID pandemic. This past year has seen an increase in the use of the Internet as a means to recruit individuals (e.g., posting job ads, grooming, etc.) as well as to advertising individuals’ online exploitation (e.g., live sex shows). The Internet, however, is simply one challenging aspect of fighting modern slavery and identifying victims. The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a UK government-run system created to identify victims of modern slavery, and while referral numbers have generally increased since 2014, so have criticisms of the NRM within which victims are not being properly supported and decisions on victims’ status are taking far too long, leaving them in a sort of limbo state.

“The Home Office isn’t the place for victims’ livelihoods, for their futures, to be decided. It is not an organisation that deals with victims”

Kevin’s passion for a multi-agency approach is encouraging far greater survivor support. He suggests various organisations with greater understanding and care for victims’ well-being oversee decisions of a potential victims’ status rather than The Home Office. The NRM was created to identify and support victims, but too many aspects of the NRM’s work are consistently scrutinized for not putting victims’ needs first. For example, a pregnant woman in the NRM is offered an additional £3/week, which Kevin notes is “not even the price of a coffee”.

Resetting the moral compass: People-first approach

Any aspect of anti-trafficking/slavery work - whether it be developing legislation, awareness raising, training front-line professionals, survivor support, or developing legal compliance on the Internet –is being done for survivors of modern slavery. This focus seems to be forgotten at times, which is why Kevin stresses the importance of putting “people first” and taking a “person-centred approach” so frequently throughout this talk. Every survivor has a different experience and personal story, and will have their own unique needs, goals, and support requirements. All this work is for the survivors as well as to prevent more victims of slavery – when we put them first, the more successful this work will be. As Kevin said, once we put victims first, “we will see a change, where the victims are empowered, and we start to see the disempowering of those who commit these crimes”.

The role of civil society

What we as everyday people in the community can do to help stop human trafficking and modern slavery was a top question from the webinar’s participants. The panelists encouraged people to:

  1. Educate yourself! Watch documentaries, read the news and the numerous books available (Stolen Lives by Louise Hulland and Slaves Among Us by Monique Villa recommended in the talk), join social media groups and discussions.

  2. Volunteer: there are numerous organisations around the UK who need volunteers to run their programs and provide support services for survivors. ASIOX is beginning their Befriender Programme to connect volunteers with survivors of slavery, to help them with isolation issues and help them reintegrate into society – programmes like this are a great way to get involved, provide necessary support for survivors and for individuals to learn more about what modern slavery really is.

  3. Ask questions and challenge the government: ask your government what is happening, what progress is being made for survivor services, etc. If the public makes more of a fuss about these things, the government will see how much we care about it.

Every aspect of life in the UK can play a role in fighting human trafficking and modern slavery, from the justice system, transport, business, health department, local authority, education, the Internet, unions, and civil society. As Kevin stated, “the UK was the catalyst for a big response into human trafficking, but we need to make sure the energy isn’t being lost”.

Get educated, understand your role, put survivors first, and push for change.

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