“If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t” was the message of a talk on modern slavery and human trafficking, delivered at St John’s Church, Hale, on May 22.
The talk, by Suzette Jones, health and wellbeing adviser for the Diocese of Guildford, revealed that, more than 200 years after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, there are still an estimated 40.3 million men, women and children trapped in modern slavery in the world, and up to 136,000 potential victims in the UK alone, according to the Global Slavery Index. Some of these are hidden in plain sight in our communities – as cleaners, in nail bars and car washes – and Surrey and Hampshire are known to be home to particularly large numbers of enslaved people living in our streets.
Suzette explained that the victims of modern slavery are often vulnerable people who thought they were being given a chance to escape their troubles for a better life – an education, a job, somewhere to live – and are often groomed over time so that they don’t realise what is happening. Once enslaved they usually live in fear, either for themselves or their families or both and so cannot escape. While many come from abroad, many are from the UK and in 2017 the UK had the most victims of slavery in the world, with Albania and Vietnam a close second and third.
The talk, which was accompanied by a film based on a true story about enslaved men working on a farm, detailed some of the signs of slavery to look out for, including people working long hours without the proper protective equipment, lack of money, language problems, not having identity documents and having strange injuries. Car washes and nail bars are particularly known for using slave labour and there is a smartphone app – the Safe Car Wash app – which offers a short survey about the working conditions of car washes, and since its launch a year ago has been used more than 2,000 times with 41 per cent of the reports showing a likelihood of modern slavery. A nail bar app is following soon.
Behind the work to tackle modern slavery is The Clewer Initiative, which works with church networks to develop strategies to detect modern slavery in communities and help provide victim support and care. It relies on individuals to understand and report signs of modern slavery and anyone concerned that they may be witnessing slavery is urged not to tackle it themselves but to call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700, or 999 if someone is in immediate danger.
The talk was part of a series of events to mark the 175th anniversary of St John’s Church, Hale. The church was founded by Bishop Charles Sumner, Bishop of Winchester and resident of Farnham. He was a cousin of William Wilberforce who worked for the abolition of slavery in the early 19th century and whose son Samuel became Bishop of Winchester after Charles Sumner retired.