I am an anti-slavery campaigner
I volunteer with the Diocese of Rochester on a Church of England project called The Clewer Initiative. We aim to raise awareness of modern slavery, identify victims and help provide victim support and care.
I first became interested in modern slavery when I met a domestic worker in Singapore at the beginning of 2016, who I believe was trafficked from the Philippines. When I came back to England I completed an online course on How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Business. Through this course I learned about the terrible working conditions in garment factories. At the beginning of 2017 I did a further course on Ending Slavery: Strategies for Contemporary Global Abolition. I was horrified to learn that, despite slavery being illegal everywhere, it exists almost everywhere, including in the UK. My entire outlook changed.
In August 2017 I decided to walk 83 miles along the Wealdway with my then 3 year old son to raise awareness of modern slavery and funds for Sport for Freedom (now part of Justice and Care). This in turn led me to sign up to a train the trainer course run by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority on behalf of The Clewer Initiative and to the voluntary work I still do today.
Slaves are no longer legally owned or kept in chains as they were in the 19th century, but they are kept in slavery through threats of violence to themselves and their families, psychological manipulation and debt bondage. Sometimes they are still physically locked up.
Slaves exist in every country in the world. Here in Kent they are hidden in plain site in car washes, nail bars, farms and construction sites. They are kept in domestic servitude or forced to grow cannabis or beg on the streets. They may be young people who are exploited to carry drugs from London to the towns of Kent. Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone and Rochester are hubs for this latter type of exploitation, which is now being called County Lines.
According to the Global Slavery Index, there are approximately 40.3 million people trapped in modern slavery throughout the world and 136,000 people in the UK. Slaves today are cheaper than ever. Today a slave costs about US$90 on average worldwide. We are connected to slavery by many of the products we buy. Many food products and raw materials are tainted by slavery – such as chocolate, tomatoes, tuna, prawns, wine, cotton, diamonds, iron, sugar and gold.
Although there are more people in slavery today than ever before, slavery represents the smallest percentage of the world’s population than at any other time in history. To quote The Rt Revd Simon Burton-Jones, the Bishop of Tonbridge:
“Hopelessness is a modern curse, and it applies to slavery too. We will not be able to stop vulnerable people being abused by evil others, but we are able to break the supply chains that depend on slave labour. To disrupt this iniquitous trade and expose its dealings. In 1 Corinthians, St Paul says that love ‘hopes all things’. There is an intrinsic link between hope and love. To love someone is to share in hope for them. And hope is not wishful thinking, but a pillar of the world to come.”