Leading up to our conference, “Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in Scotland” UNHS is focused not only on raising awareness of the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery, but also providing avenues for actionable change. This post outlines our argument for why every person in our society should be concerned about this issue, and will be followed by the “See Me, Free Me Action Plan”, a trilogy of blogs providing action points for anyone to fight against modern slavery. Keep an eye on our blog as we continue to post our Action Plan, and provide steps to how you can stop modern slavery in your community.
When we hear the word ‘slavery’, it’s easy to imagine the stories of ancient Romans, or the Transatlantic slave trade – both episodes from the Western culture that we have buried in history books, declaring our disapproval and dislike for such treatment of human beings.
Yet, slavery is back. Or maybe it never really left us. Despite being abolished nearly 200 years ago, slavery was experienced by 40.3 million people in 2016. In its modern guise, it seems to be invisible to the untrained eye. Unseen and unpunished, slavery flourishes across the globe, generating USD150 billion profits annually. Modern slaves, just like in ancient Rome, make our life easier and cheaper: they labour for little to no pay to catch the fish that lands on our table, harvest our fields, clean our houses and sate our sexual desires. Should we care about the lot of these modern slaves? And if so, why? Here are three reasons why we should all take action on modern slavery today.
1. Slavery is a Violation of Human Rights
Slavery, in all its shapes and forms, goes against the basic human rights which are inscribed into the laws that underpin our societies today. Articles 1 and 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights unequivocally remind us of those values:
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
"No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms."
If we forget about the loss of these basic human rights in our debates on modern slavery, we risk failing to see the brutal process of dehumanisation suffered by slaves. We risk forgetting about our obligation to defend their rights, our rights, rights which should be shared and enjoyed by all humanity. Finally, ignoring the violation of one human right leads to the normalisation of that abuse and risks the other rights that we take for granted.
2. Slavery = Suffering
Slavery degrades people through the violent coercion of their labour, in conditions that dehumanise them. Modern enslavement lasts on average 4.4 years, during which slaves can be exploited for commercial sex, labour and bonded labour, domestic servitude, forced marriage or organ removal. There is nothing modern in modern slavery. Slaves do not have the opportunities to enjoy the achievements of the twenty first century: they have no access to healthcare, education, social protection, or modern means of communication. Finally, slaves do not enjoy the fruits of their work. They rarely see any meaningful financial compensation for their work– 94% of slaves live below the poverty line, experience daily abuse and inhumane conditions of living..
3. Slavery Surrounds Us All, Everywhere
Millions of women, men and children are exploited in all corners of the world. Although many still think the issue affects only distant countries, the International Labour Organisation estimates that that 3.6 million victims of slavery have been living in Europe at any given time in 2016. We only know about a handful of the survivors, those who overcame the shame and social stigma of being called a ‘slave’ – among them 3,805 of the estimated 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking recorded in the UK in 2016.
Victims of modern slavery are present in our communities, and so are the fruits of their labour: from seafood delicacies caught by indentured fishermen, to our cars washed by underpaid or indeed unpaid migrants; from children forced to beg on our streets, to women who suffer sexual exploitation in ubiquitous massage parlours. From Glasgow to London, from Paris to Warsaw, to Moscow, to Dubai, to Hong Kong, to Los Angeles – no city, no country is slavery-free.