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People-trafficking: A build-up of traffic

03 August 2018

People trafficking has grown in direct proportion to human desperation. Pat Ashworth discovers what churches can do


IT IS worth more than $150 billion per year, and is the fastest-growing business in the world, surpassing the drugs trade and second only to the arms trade. It involves an estimated 46 million people worldwide, 13,000 of whom are estimated to be in the UK.

Human trafficking is big business.

The majority of trafficked people — men, women, and children — are victims of sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, or domestic servitude. They are forced to work long hours for little or no pay, and under the threat of violence. A minority of human-trafficking cases also involve people trafficked for their body parts.

The perception that trafficking was mostly about female — usually sexual — exploitation, has been blown out of the water, Major Anne Read, who retired last month as Director of Anti Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Salvation Army, says. There’s now a much bigger view of trafficking as an aspect of modern slavery, and hence a better appreciation that not just a small number of experts, but all manner of organisations and faith groups can come together to combat it.”

The Global Slavery Index 2016 shows that, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than six million people are believed to be enslaved (13.6 per cent of the global number). The region also has the highest density of child trafficking in the world.

“Criminals and people who don’t value human life have become aware of a way of making a lot of money relatively easily,” Major Read says.

“You’ve got this kind of greed on one side of the coin, and people’s sense of helplessness and hopelessness on the other, [often] coupled with their perception that there is more in the world available to them if they are just willing to take a chance. They will risk everything on the possibility that their life, or their families’ lives, will be improved.”


In 2011, the Salvation Army won the government contract to operate the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a process adopted by the UK since 2009 to identify possible victims of trafficking, and provide a framework of specialist support for adult victims in England and Wales. There has been a 300-per-cent increase in referrals, which totalled 5868 between 2012 and 2017, and whose numbers are expected to continue to rise.

Figures from the National Crime Agency show that, in 2017, Albania, Vietnam, and Nigeria topped the list of the 91 source countries, with the highest proportion of people trafficked into the UK, and, while there is likely to be little awareness in rural Albania of the perils implicit, Nigeria has done much to raise awareness. But still they come.

“Traffickers can be clever: they befriend people with the object of winning their trust; they may encourage them to build up a debt to the point at which they will be encouraged to save their family honour by coming to the UK and paying it off,” Major Read says.

But well-qualified people are also among those in the UK who have been identified through the NRM as having been trafficked: they came to Britain for what they thought were legitimate jobs in professions such as the health service, engineering, and construction, she says.

ONE of the early campaigners against trafficking in the UK is the Revd Dr Carrie Pemberton-Ford, a Church of England priest and founding director of the Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking (CCARHT). She has been involved since 2001, when she was working as a religious manager at Yarl’s Wood — at the time, Europe’s largest detention centre.

It was in Yarl’s Wood — “honestly feeling as though I was in a Dickens novel”, she says — that she first encountered people who had been trafficked: women from Cameroon, Albania, and Uganda. “Human trafficking” was not then recognised internationally as a contemporary crime: it was first defined as such in the Palermo Protocol, adopted by the UN General Assembly and brought into force in 2003.

Dr Pemberton-Ford set up CHASTE (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe) that same year: a body that operated until 2007 and secured significant new resources for the safe housing of trafficking survivors.

Dr Carrie Pemberton-Ford

She pays particular tribute to a former Chief Constable, Tim Brain, an Anglican, for his work in pressing for safe houses; and to Sister Anne Joseph, of the Order of St Joseph of Annecy, who, in 2006, created the Medaille Trust from a first donation of £1 million. The Trust, which has a large network of safe houses, remains one of the 13 organisations now providing safe housing for those identified through the NRM, in partnership with the Salvation Army.

CCARHT works to facilitate multi-agency research on human trafficking, and hosts an annual symposium as part of this work — the third took place in July. “What has improved over the years is the level of NGO co-operation,” Dr Pemberton-Ford says.

This year, the focus of the symposium was on the “Five Ts of Human Trafficking”: Trauma, Transport, Terror, Transparency (in supply chains), and Tech. It heard from expert traumatologists, such as the medical director of the Helen Bamber Foundation, Professor Cornelius Katona; from Peter Gerrard, head of group policy at the Co-Operative, on examining supermarket supply chains; and from others, including the International Air Transport Association, whose campaign “Eyes Wide Open” is designed to increase the awareness of airline cabin staff.

“Anything with a cash economy is at risk — such as nail bars, car washes, strawberry-picking,” Dr Pemberton-Ford says. “The problem is across the agricultural and construction industries, road-surfacing, lumber, fishing . . . all the stuff where you require fluid labour, which is no longer available in the mainstream economy, and so is really exposed to trafficking exploitation.

“That’s a systemic issue about how we do our labour. Everyone knows how horrific all this is. Now what we need to do is understand more about how it’s working, and then to interrupt, intervene, and — really long-term — to cut into the reasons why it’s happening.

“What emerges is that real systemic transformation will occur only when we have civil society really waking up, and each citizen taking responsibility for love of neighbour. That’s how I, and those who see it from a faith perspective, would articulate it; those seeing it in a secular context see it as a breach of human rights.

“We need to take properly into account what it means to be a rights carrier. We need to think globally, act locally, and mobilise inclusively to address this commoditisation of human lives.”

She makes no apology for moving into preaching mode as she reflects on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The power of Christianity, she suggests, is that “you cannot simply project to the authorities that they weren’t looking after the safety of that route down to Jerusalem, and therefore were responsible for a man dying in the ditch; or make an imperial attack on the Romans for increased lawlessness. Jesus says, ‘I’m making this your business. What are you going to do?’”

Major Anne Read

In England and Wales, once a person has been identified as a potential trafficking victim, and the information has been passed on to the “competent authority”, as defined in the legislation, he or she can begin to receive specialist support. An agency, or any other person who wants to ask advice of refer someone to the NRM, can call the Salvation Army’s referral line 24 hours a day. A quick risk and needs assessment is carried out, and then arrangements are made for the person to come into the service.

“It can all happen very quickly. They don’t have to negotiate anything else,” Major Read confirms. “From there, they go to a network of safe houses — including ours — all around the country.”

Under the Government’s new recommendations for the service (yet to be implemented), once it has been decided that there are “conclusive grounds” that someone is a victim of trafficking, victims can remain in a safe house for 45 days (currently it is only 14).

“That’s extremely helpful, because, once we know the outcome, we can work much more efficiently and ensure all the supports are in place to make sure they stay safe,” Major Read says. “We’re also setting up post-exit hubs: drop-in centres where people can receive help if they are in a difficult situation.”


THE Church of England’s official response to human trafficking is the Clewer Initiative, a three-year project, launched in October 2017, to help dioceses spot signs of exploitation in their communities, and to support victims of modern slavery (News, 20 October 2017). It is chaired by the Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, who leads on this issue in the House of Lords.

He worked extensively on the draft Modern Slavery Bill, and its consequent landmark legislation, the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which “gives law enforcement the tools to fight modern slavery, ensure perpetrators can receive suitably severe punishments for these appalling crimes, and enhance support and protection for its victims”. The Bishop chairs the independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Advisory Panel, and has constantly emphasised the value of partnerships between external agencies and the Church to eradicate slavery.

Fifteen dioceses have so far signed up to the initiative: Bath & Wells, Blackburn, Canterbury, Chester, Derby, Durham, Gloucester, Guildford, Lichfield, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Rochester, St Albans, Southwark, and Southwell & Nottingham. The project lead in Nottingham is the diocesan partnerships officer, the Revd Liam O’Boyle, who has made some interesting discoveries about people’s preconceptions about slavery.

He has found a hesitancy to report a suspicion of human trafficking, and warns that someone noticing something might be the only opportunity a victim has of getting out of that situation. “We miss it at our peril,” he says. “Faith communities are in all neighbourhoods, especially the C of E. It’s incumbent on us to make sure we can recognise the signs and do something about it.”

He documents a case in one area of Nottingham where a house with a scruffy caravan on the driveway proved to be home to five Eastern European migrants, victims of modern slavery. A police house-to-house afterwards, asking local residents what they had seen, revealed a culture of indifference.

“The police officer asked one household, ‘Well, did you not think anything was strange?’” Mr O’Boyle remembers. “And the lady said, ‘Well, they’re Poles, aren’t they? It’s nothing to do with us.’ The policeman challenged her and said, ‘What would you have done if you had found animals in that state?’ And she said, ‘Well, I’d have called you, or the RSPCA.’”

The Clewer Initiative produces awareness-raising posters, cards, and even a Safe Car Wash app — allowing users to complete a survey about the working conditions they notice — believed to be the largest community intelligence-gathering exercise ever attempted in the UK.

Stop the Traffik, founded by the Revd Steve Chalke in 2006, goes further and wider, having produced the first app of its kind to combine “community empowerment, big data management, and anti-trafficking expertise to disrupt and prevent human trafficking”. The Stop app can be down loaded by anyone in the world with a smartphone, enabling the safe reporting of stories while constantly adding to knowledge about the global picture.

Information supplied to the app is fed directly into the Centre for Intelligence-Led Prevention, where it is analysed alongside global data that is used to build intelligence on global trends and hotspots of human trafficking.


THERE has been strong criticism of the Government for not following up its good intentions over human trafficking with the “coherent action” demanded by the Public Accounts Committee in a report in May.

Among the criticisms the report found that the current system did not allow data collected to be used in a sophisticated way, the decision process was too long, and data was not being collected on what happened to people after they left the NRM. Without targets to judge success against, it could not be established whether the stra­tegy was working, or what actions should be prioritised.

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, resigned over the issue days later, quoting figures that showed that only six per cent of all recorded modern slavery charges ever led to charges. He told ITV News at the time that the legislation around the Modern Slavery Act needed to focus on what it was designed for, “so that it actually supports the victims, actually puts people in prison, actually takes the assets away from criminals, and works to prevent this happening in the first place”.

The priority, he said, needed to move from “talking about it, and looking at the issue and raising awareness, to one where you are really bringing the fight to the criminals. They need to be scared that the knock they get on the door tomorrow is from law enforcement. “

He told the Church Times last week, that as well as a need for more auditing and quality assurance around the NRM, law enforcement and other agencies, “the details that are in the NRM, coupled with the information there from other agencies, whether it’s NGOs, whether it’s police intelligence, that collated together creates a rich picture, and what that needs to move into is arrests and prosecutions.”

Asked about church involvement, he said that some of the larger groups “can access people statutory agencies can’t, and give them the trust and give them the lifeline to support, to be free, and to live.”

Dr Tim Brain

On the strategic side, he suggested that the Church could play an im­­­port­ant part in shaping the way in which governments, local authorities, law enforcement, and other statutory agencies responded.

”We are saying in the UK [that] we are the global leads in this, and so the policy needs to reflect that. . . Church leaders coming together can influence that and keep the pressure on to make sure the policy is right and actually meets the needs of people they’re reaching out to. . .

”And most of the time they can talk about it with authority because their congregations — or their clergy, or their religious Sisters, or their representatives — will have met and walked with people in their times of need.

”Putting that back to the public, putting that back to the policy-makers, putting that back to the media is so crucial, and that’s what we don’t always get when we’re writing policy. . .

”Policy needs to work at 3 a.m. in Hackney or Harrogate; it needs to work at 3 p.m. in London or in Leeds. And, sometimes, policy is written just to fill a gap, [and] that actually won’t work, and won’t tran­­slate to action on the ground, wher­eas the Church can actually give that story in a very evidential way.”

He sees the Clewer Initiative about car-washing as a good ex­­ample of churches’ coming to­­gether to gather intelligence. “It is taking a strategic approach across England and Wales on this issue,” he says, “getting momentum from its parish­­ioners and congregations, and feeding that back into a parliament­­ary committee and also into wider policy. . . That’s a wel­come ap­­proach.”

He also sees the partnership that is developing between police forces and Roman Catholic bishops, through the Santa Marta group, as very strategic. “[The] Santa Marta group is starting to influence other police forces around the world that you would not have imagined. . . In some of these countries, by the Church working with the police, it has actually changed culture.”

He also believes that “there’s a strategic opportunity for faith leaders and churches as well, to turn this on those who can make a change: the private sector throughout the world, because, if we stamp this out in our business models, we’re starting to make a change culturally that we don’t turn a blind eye.”

Sister Anne Joseph

NO ONE argues that the Modern Slavery Act was not an advance. One of its catalysts was the work of Unseen UK, which was founded in Bristol, and has helped to shape UK policy. From its initial work with Avon and Somerset Police, and Bristol City Council, it set up its first safe house in 2011, followed by a resettlement service, and then the establishment of the Anti-Slavery Partnership, whose aim is to eradicate human trafficking in their area. Calls last year to its Modern Slavery Helpline, established in 2016, identified 4886 potential victims.

Kate Garbers, the managing director of Unseen, is a powerful advocate, dedicated to “making the invisible visible, and the unseen seen. Once we see slavery, it is quite staggering how our lives connect with it,” she says.

A recent operation in Exeter with Devon and Cornwall Police, after reported concerns about a car wash, identified nine Romanian men “hidden in plain sight”, working for as little as £5 a day and living in cramped, horrific, and insanitary conditions. It is happening in towns and cities all over the UK, Ms Garbers says, and in sectors that include everything from daffodil-picking to nail-painting.

Potential signs of slavery to look out for include comings and goings from a house at all times of day and night, or someone who is serving who appears withdrawn and does not make eye contact. “Often, we hesitate, we’re unsure, we don’t want to get it wrong. But the Modern Slavery Helpline is there to assist you,” she emphasises.

Demand for cheap goods is fuelling the trafficking business. At a recent TED Talk, in Exeter, Ms Garbers urged her audience to go the Modern Slavery Footprint website to consider where their own lifestyle choices (connected to the goods we buy, and the materials sourced or produced to make them) connect with slavery.

“It gives an estimate of how many slaves are working for you. I am ashamed to say that I have a staggering 38 slaves working for me. Armed with that knowledge, you can make personal choices about what it is you want to do to start tackling this issue in your own life.”

She concludes with the words of William Wilberforce. “You can choose to look the other way. But you can never again say that you did not know.”

www.salvationarmy.org.uk (Modern Slavery Referral Helpline: 0300 3038151)

www.modernslaveryhelpline.org (Modern Slavery Helpline: 08000 121 700)








Spotting the signs

HOW do you know if someone in your community is a victim of human trafficking? The Clewer Initiative suggest these signs:


Shows signs of physical or psychological abuse and untreated injuries.

Looks malnourished or unkempt, or appears withdrawn and neglected.

Seems under the control or influence of others.

Wears the same clothes every day.

Wears no safety equipment even if their work requires it.


Lives in dirty, cramped, or overcrowded accommodation.

Lives and working at the same address.

Appears unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work.


Rarely allowed to travel on their own.

Collected and dropped off on a regular basis early in the morning or late at night.

In a crowded minibus with other workers.

Has no control of their identification documents, such as their passport.

Seeking help

Reluctant to seek help and avoids eye contact.

Appears frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers.

Fears police, doesn’t know who to trust or where to get help.

Afraid of deportation, and risk of violence to them or their family.

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