"YOU may choose to look the other way, but you can never say
again that you did not know." In this warning in 1791, William
Wilberforce brought home to Parliament the reality of the Atlantic
slave trade. Wilberforce, with a group known as the Clapham Sect,
set out to raise public consciousness of the evil of the slave
trade, and to seek its abolition.
Today, it is estimated that between 12 and 27 million people
worldwide are enslaved into forced labour and sexual exploitation.
However we do the sums, it means that there are more people
enslaved today than at any other time in human history.
The Global Slavery Index 2013 identifies slavery in Britain:
"Primarily originating from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe,
victims of modern slavery are forced into sex work, domestic
servitude, agriculture, construction, food processing, benefit
fraud, door to door leaflet delivery, and also in tarmacking and
block paving industries."
Wherever people live in the UK, it is possible that someone near
by is a victim of trafficking. We are looking at a globalised
industry, which makes huge profits for those who lure the
vulnerable, and exploit the weak and desperate. Businesses need to
check their supply chains: the everyday items we buy may well
involve the forced labour of people somewhere in the world.
However it is defined, what trafficking comes down to is simple:
it is about moving someone into - or keeping them in - a situation
of exploitation from which he or she cannot escape. The recent
freeing of three women who are believed to have been enslaved for
many years in London has brought this into focus. Sometimes, as the
police are saying about this case, the chains are invisible.
Victims are abused, isolated, terrified, and often confused.
THIS is a situation that demands concerted action from the
Church, as well as from the rest of society. Human Rights Day, 2
December, is focusing this year on trafficking. Attempts are being
made in Parliament to bring in a new anti-slavery Bill. How
successful this will be is determined by many things, including
Parliamentary timetables. Whether or not such a Bill is passed,
this in itself will not bring the outrage of modern slavery to an
"Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the
poor and the needy," the author of Proverbs wrote. The issue of
trafficking requires similar voices and action. What is needed is a
new global ethic on slavery and trafficking, one in which priority
is given to prevention, to prosecuting the perpetrators, and to
protecting the victims and supporting them to regain their
We need to learn a new set of three Rs - rescue, rehabilitation,
and re-integration. Prevention and response hold the key to a new
international convention on abolishing slavery.
Christian people have a responsibility to practise solidarity
with all those, regardless of status, who are dehumanised by forced
labour or trafficking. Jesus's identification with us as human
beings, made in God's image, is vital to understanding how we are
Trafficked people have rights - not because of their
citizenship, but because of their human nature. As human beings,
they deserve the right to grow into the full stature of their
humanity. We have an example of this in the Bible story of Joseph,
who was sold into slavery by his brothers, trafficked into Egypt,
and ultimately rose to save a nation.
THERE are things that we can do to fight this injustice. We can
pray and take action. Everything that Christians do begins with
prayer, because that is how God moves our hearts to his saving
We can support those who are seeking to legislate for an
anti-slavery Bill in letters, phone calls, and emails to MPs. We
can raise funds for organisations that combat modern-day
We can learn more about it, and raise awareness with others. We
might take a fresh look at our neighbourhood, at those engaged in
industries such as agriculture, food-processing, domestic work, and
so on. We could search for signs, particularly among women and
girls - for people who display signs of fear, vulnerability, or
As a Church, we are planning to focus on modern slavery,
developing study materials and training programmes, and
collaborating with other Churches and organisations that are
already working with great commitment in this field.
We want to raise consciousness of this 21st-century crime, so
that we can say, with Wilberforce: "You may choose to look the
other way, but you can never say again that you did not
The Most Revd Justin Welby is the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Rt Revd Peter Price is a former Bishop of Bath &