Churches told to keep eyes open for signs of modern slavery in parishes

06 April 2018

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IDENTIFYING and reporting slavery in the UK should not be left to the police, a group of Church of England bishops has said: it should be the responsibility of everyone in communities everywhere.

In a letter to The Times on Holy Saturday, 15 bishops, led by the retiring Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, who has been a fierce campaigner against modern slavery during his tenure, wrote: “It might seem that we should leave this problem to the police. But this Easter we are asking everyone to open their eyes to the signs of potential exploitation around them.”

The letter began: “Easter is a time to celebrate new life — and life in all its fullness. But there are thousands in our midst who cannot do the same, who are suffering a life of slavery: exploited, threatened and abused.

“Slavery is on the rise in Britain in a way we have not seen since the days of William Wilberforce. Last year, 5145 victims were found in the UK.”

This represented a “big increase” on the 2016 figure, but does not “come close” to the tens of thousands that the National Crime Agency believes go unreported, the Bishops wrote.

An estimated 45.8 million people are trapped in forms of modern slavery worldwide, and these include about 11,700 victims in the UK.

The Bishops also highlight the work of the Clewer Initiative, a three-year C of E project to help dioceses to detect labour exploitation, prostitution, sex slavery, and forced marriage in their communities, and to provide support and care for victims (News, 20 October).

Dr Redfern, who also chairs the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Advisory Panel, has been leading the work of the initiative with his diocese, and finding new resources and partnerships (News, 11 August 2017).

He said at its launch: “Churches can provide a space. . . where different groups can meet to discuss how they work together to support victims, and to improve efforts for rescue and prevention.

“We can also act as ‘eyes and ears’ in our communities to help identify victims. Our work in the Clewer Initiative will build on the passion of churches to be with people, to contribute to more effective structures, and to go the extra mile for the sake of those who are suffering.”

Other signatories of The Times letter included the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek; the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler; the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith; the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman; and the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker.

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