Globalization has seen the modern slave trade grow rapidly. It is easier than ever for traffickers to move “product” around the world. Technological changes have led to an increase in global organized crime, while the end of the Cold War has weakened border controls. In 2005, it was estimated that regional conflicts and mass economic migration had caused 190 million people to move away from their country of birth. Human trafficking is easier in these conditions. And it is not hard to understand why it is popular with criminals: low start-up costs, minimal risks, high profits. Unlike drugs or arms, humans can be sold and sold again.
In 2010, the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day was introduced, and awareness of modern-day slavery is growing. However, much still needs to be done.
British Prime Minister David Cameron maintains that human trafficking is an important issue for the British government, which in August announced that a slavery bill will be unveiled in the next Queen’s speech (which outlines the government’s agenda on the first day of a new parliamentary session in the UK). British Member of Parliament Frank Field is chairing an informal inquiry ahead of the bill that has to be completed by Christmas. Finally, things seem to be moving.
However, new visa restrictions introduced by British Home Secretary Theresa May tie migrant domestic workers to their employers, making them more at risk of abuse — and less likely to report abuse that does occur, because the result will be certain deportation and probable destitution.
Campaign groups have outlined other areas that could be improved: a smarter national referral mechanism to ensure that trafficked people are able to access services; wider scope for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, as it regulates those who supply labor or use workers to provide a host of services; support for victims; and an independent watchdog. Above all, the bill must be backed by ringfenced resources so that law enforcement agencies can do their job. Without this, the UK’s newly formed law enforcement agency targeting organized crime, the National Crime Agency, will always be a step behind.
As the three women who were freed last week begin their recovery, the rest of us must get over the shock of discovering that slaves may be living next door, and get on with the campaign to end modern slavery.