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Social justice
18 March 2013

Here’s a real challenge for Theresa May: End slavery in Britain

Most of the attention surrounding Theresa May last week had little to do with her responsibilities as Home Secretary. Indeed, when a report was published detailing a series of horrendous crimes, she wasn’t in the story at all.

The report, It happens here, was published by the Centre for Social Justice, and the criminal activity it documents is the practice of modern-day slavery on British soil. 

In a post for the Spectator, the CSJ’s Christian Guy explains that something we might have assumed was all in the past is still very much with us:

  • “Slowly but surely, British court cases are revealing a once great nation of abolitionists to be a shadow of its former self. We often celebrate the nineteenth century anti-slavery movement and its precious victory. We hail their achievement and honour our Parliament’s noblest hour.
  • “But like weeds in a neglected garden, slavery has returned. Its roots remained intact – inherent in humanity’s darkest weaknesses. Today, it is aggressive and hidden.  It lives in the shadows of Britain’s cities, towns and villages...
  • “Across and within UK borders, vile child and sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude trap people in terrible torture… many are threatened with rape, death or brutal attacks on their families back home at the slightest hint of rebellion. There are growing numbers of British-born victims too. School girls moved around the UK at weekends – raped numerous times a night – and back in the classroom on Monday. This is a modern day underworld.”

How can this be happening here, in Britain, in the 21st century? Well, for a start, it might help if we could bring ourselves to recognise slavery for what it is:

  • “In the hands of international bureaucrats the problem has become better known as ‘human trafficking’.  But just like ‘collateral damage’, these words mask the terror, injustice and nature of abuse inflicted on those who are its victims.

One could say the same about the so-called ‘grooming’ in which children have been lured into the slavery of forced prostitution. The labour exploitation of immigrants and homeless people by many so-called ‘gangmasters’ also amounts to slavery, such is the coercion involved:

  • “Behind closed doors, these victims are voiceless and petrified. Most, of course, are not free to walk away.  And those who can often don’t, fearing immediate arrest or deportation. And those who do escape receive inadequate support.”
  • “...Police officers, social workers, health professionals and prison governors regularly fail to recognise slavery victims when they come face-to-face with them.  Police officers arresting a female victim who had escaped from a brothel because she didn’t have a passport is one such example of this.”

As the department with overall responsibility, the Home Office claims to have the right systems in place for coordinating an effective response. However, the CSJ report argues that this isn’t in fact the case.

By the very nature of the crime, the victims of modern slavery are among the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society. They have no voice, no influence, no impact at all on mainstream public opinion.

This is how the most appalling things can go on with no effect on the political agenda. Ignored by the media, overlooked by Parliament and merely managed by officialdom. This is, therefore, an issue that cries out for true leadership.


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