EuropeHuman Rights

Britain was once one of the world’s major beneficiaries of slavery

Britain was once one of the world’s best established nations of slavery, with the likes of London, Liverpool, Glasgow and Bristol, all benefiting from the profits of the trade. Unfortunately the ugly face of slavery has not gone away from the UK. From it’s horrendous past of running the slave trade, to the the toppling of the Robert Colstan statue in Britsol, to the reality of the modern day slave trade in Britain.

The UK is still home to forced labour, entrapment and exploitation, taking advantage of those who are less fortunate than others, or are at the height of their vulnerability.

The whole issue of domestic servitude is very much a live issue within this country, and the British government itself estimates that there is a minimum of 3000 people at any one time in forced labour and slavery across the UK.

Aidan McQuade, Director, Anti-Slavery UK

Why is such a form of trade still so prominent in Britain?

The answer is simple; in fact, it is in line with one of the principles of economics, namely supply and demand. For as long as people want to buy the services and products produced and delivered by forced labour, forced labour shall prevail.

Whereas there are many charities in Britain providing support to the victims of trafficking and forced labour, the convictions against those running the operations are clearly not enough to put a stop to the crime, or of sufficient deterrence value.

With the law unable to fully prevent the exploitation taking place, when arrests do come, they hit the headlines, but one can only imagine just how many cases go undetected, leaving those trapped in modern day slavery, lost in the shadows.

How widespread is it?

Britain is home to at least 100,000 modern day slaves. According to a survey, that is 10 times more than the official government figures, with estimates that 90% of those caught in the slavery matrix remain undetected.

According to the National Office of Statistics, reports of modern day slavery to the police have risen from 909 in 2016, to 5,144 cases in 2019, meaning the 500% increase clearly shows signs that the situation in the UK, is getting worse.

With the potential number of victims being in excess of 100,000 people a mere 340 flagged cases resulted in a Crown Prosecution Service, or CPS charging decision, with 273 of these only resulting in a final indictable decision, showing that there is still not enough being done in Britain to end the practice.

Post Brexit dilemma

Having voted to leave the European Union, Britain has found itself in a quandary. The mainstay of food sold in Britain comes from the EU and further afield. Most of the food grown in the UK is either, planted, raised, grown, picked or packed by low-skilled Eastern European workers.

It is hence this market that is at most risk from the use and exploitation of people trafficked into the position, and forced to complete long working hours, living in poor conditions, and being paid a pittance for their efforts.

Hope to despair

For many in Eastern Europe, the prospect of living and working in the UK was an ideal opportunity to escape the lack of jobs and difficult conditions that they lived in back home, riding the wave of a promise that would not materialize.

But upon arrival, the reality soon sets in, as many of the now clearly trafficked people, wake up to the notion of a worse quality of life and living conditions than they had before.

With passports taken, money owed, and finally succumbing to the fact that the job they were promised did not exist, the ability to break free from the controlling prison like conditions set by the traffickers, became impossible.

The story described is all too common in the UK, with many people coming to the Britain under similar circumstances, being forced to abide by traffickers rules, and then exploited.

The UK government is no angel either, when it realized that Brexit had seen multiple Europeans leave Britain, and the British themselves unwilling to work in the fields, Boris was forced to ship in 100’s of Romanian fruit pickers to stop the food rotting, and the nation going hungry, no doubt, the Romanians were paid a pittance.

The sex industry

The ‘World’s Oldest Profession’, Prostitution, is no doubt one of the most exploitable and controlling businesses in the world.

The UK is no exception when it comes to the rule, with many brothels and sex workers in the UK caught in very much the same trap as the fruit pickers, factory workers and construction workers in forced labour in the UK, the only difference… the sheer numbers, with more sex workers in forced labour than any other industry.

Much like elsewhere in the world, many people are brought into the UK from abroad, with the UK seeing many from countries such as Albania, Romania, Hungary and China.

However, many sex workers in the UK are not from abroad, and are exploited from an early age in the UK, with gangs and peers often taking advantage of vulnerable girls, and boys, to achieve their aim.

Targets for sexploitation

The United Kingdom is a destination for men, women, and children from impoverished countries who are subjected to human trafficking for the purpose of sexual slavery.

Upon arrival in the UK, their passport might be taken away and they may be told they need to pay off the trafficking fee debt before they can leave. Violence and threats are commonplace.

Vulnerable British people are also targeted, especially children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In general, economic migrants, refugees, vulnerable children and teenagers are the prime targets of sex traffickers.  

Because of its secretive nature, producing an accurate estimate of how many people have been subject to sex slavery in the UK is difficult.

But in 2019 it was estimated that 13 thousand people were living in such circumstances. It is believed the actual figure is likely to be double the projected estimate.

What we can say with certainty is that the numbers keeps rising each year.

Sadly, this is a multinational, multi-billion-dollar industry that thrives on control and fear.

And, to make matters worse, the system in the UK is not currently set up to support people who become entangled in exploitation. Only charities provide some help which, in most instances, is not even close to enough.

Promises and lies

Much like those who control the factory workers and fruit pickers, sexual exploitation in Britain is no different, with victims being promised perks and benefits, not knowing what they were getting themselves into.

On a wider scale, many places that offer sex, populated mainly by trafficked and exploited women, are to be found across the UK, with London’s Soho being one of the most infamous of such districts, hidden behind the false facades of legitimate massage parlors, but in truth, just another den of forced labour, with vulnerable and exploited victims at the forefront.

Contributory factors

So how do people end up caught in the trap of being a modern day slave? There are of course unlimited reasons as to why people become vulnerable, be this through poverty, conflict, lack of opportunity, or many others.

Poverty is no doubt one of the main factors that drive people to desperate situations, with many of the modern day slaves in the UK believing that by coming to Britain to work, they can send money back home to their own countries and pay off the traffickers, as well as leaving money to their families, to bring them out of poverty.

Others are simply after work as they do not have the opportunities back in their home countries. But even if they do find normal jobs, the trafficking and exploitation continues.

The reality is that exploitation takes many forms and shapes, be it through debt bonding, forced labour, sexual exploitation or many others, but the notion of being stuck is a terrifying feeling for those caught, stuck in a foreign country, ruled by an organized gang, and essentially, being exploited in a way no different from the terrible slave trade era that saw Africans shipped around the world as slaves, with the alarming fact, that Britain, is still involved in modern slavery today.


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