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Interview: Carrie Pemberton Ford, founder, executive director, Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking

15 October 2021

‘We need to be curious about others’ well-being and working conditions’

Trafficking networks take active and devastating advantage of all the gaps in the protection of people’s rights, which other citizens ignore. Governments in countries of source and demand must step up their actions in addressing what is a gross human-rights violation affecting directly, at the very minimum, 24 million individuals on all six continents.


I founded the Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking [CCARHT] back in 2010 to research the human-trafficking impact of the London Olympic Games in 2012: construction, textiles, sub-contracted site labour, and sex work — which informed the Metropolitan Police’s human-trafficking task force and the Mayor of London’s Office for Police and Crime.


Trafficking means recruitment of labour without consent — though consent is irrelevant in the case of children — by deception, force, or debt bondage, and withholding just repayment. We have a legally binding definition since the Palermo Protocol in 2000, signed by over 167 countries.


We looked at policies for Europe’s 10,000 separated and unaccompanied children for the Religious in Europe Network Against Trafficking and Exploitation. For the Churches Together in England, we looked at African Majority Churches’ efforts to address domestic servitude, fostering practices, and trafficking for sexual exploitation, alongside gender-based violence across the world, especially domestic violence, and reported to the House of Commons and the House of Lords.


In our 2018 symposium, we looked at British ports, having in mind the disaster of 2000, when 58 migrants from China died in a container. This summer, we explored the multi-million-pound rise of organ harvesting and transplant tourism across some countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Most recently, we’re looking at the recruitment of minors into armed forces in Syria, Mozambique, and Yemen.


The last decade has seen a vigorous deployment of cyber technologies, trafficking sex, children, pornographic images, drugs, fraudulent call centres, and counterfeit goods, as well as longstanding labour exploitation in the textile, tailoring, food-processing, harvesting, and construction industries in the UK, and child labour in brick-making, road construction, lumber and mining enterprises, and cash crops internationally, all keeping labour costs low.


The Cambridge Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement looks at the movement of peoples across the world. We need to see how this movement adapts to our contemporary geo-political, economic, and climatic landscapes.


CCARHT, as one of the first think-tanks to emerge in 2010, retains a certain independence of the government-funded agenda. We can research less popular or problematic approaches, and collaborate with international partners; so we are less UK-centric.


But we’re cash poor. We rely on committed individuals networking, sharing project opportunities. Junior civil servants and postgraduates make up our volunteer research and events-administration teams.


Millions of pounds can be raised for vanity projects, restoring steeples or propelling billionaires into space, while protecting the full humanity of our neighbours is neglected. I’m convinced that this worrying disconnect of resource also troubled Jesus in his ministry. His words in Luke 6.18 do resonate with me.


We need deep and well-resourced engagement from religious leaders. Despite the generous donation of the Clewer Trust from the Cuddesdon Sisters to fund the Car Wash initiative, and a number of deanery drives to address labour trafficking in their communities, human trafficking isn’t really addressed by our churches. Anti-Slavery Day [18 October] will see thousands of new blogs, social-media events, marching, updated LinkedIn profiles on new reports, or initiatives being undertaken to raise awareness of human trafficking, but few will really be clear about the reasons for it.


It occurs for lack of adequate social protection, endemic poverty, and multiple forms of exclusion. The second factor is consumer demand in the UK, and most of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the North Americas.


We need to be curious about others’ well-being and working conditions, to unpick the world which we take for granted. The Transparency in Supply Chains Provision of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act encourages the issuing of a modern-slavery statement in all companies with a turnover of over £36 million, and this has seeped through to companies further down the supply chain. Most dioceses now have a statement somewhere on their websites. But what does it really all add up to? We live in a scandalously unequal world.


Because Covid-19 struck just as Brexit was being confirmed across UK business, the full impact hasn’t yet been completely understood. There may be more dependence on people-smugglers and interlinked trafficking networks which feed off vulnerable people. All of us need to be alert to our responsibilities.


The pandemic has certainly seen a rising demand for online pornography and an escalation in cyber fraud — some of which clearly deploys trafficked persons — while victim services have suffered.


I had a somewhat Trollopian childhood in a rebuild of a bombed Victorian church and its 1940s vicarage, on the outskirts of Bromley. When I was about six, an Anglican saint [Janani Luwum] — one of the rising talents of the Ugandan Church — spent vacations with us, whilst studying at St John’s, Nottingham. His brief presence modelled a different way of exercising male power: gracious and deeply respectful to my mother, and quietly attentive to my sister and myself.


My first conscious experiences of God addressing me very distinctly cluster around the time when Janani was staying with us. I was playing in the church with my sister and handful of attentive teddy bears lined up on the shiny mahogany pews, and I knew that one day I’d be a priest. Around the same time, Janani told my mother that he had prayed that one day one of us would become a missionary and enjoy the hospitality of his people.


I was made deacon in at Ripon Cathedral in 1986. We chose CMS as our mission society, and the former Archbishop of Boga Zaire invited my then husband and myself to re-establish the theological college at Bunia Zaire, after the shooting of its founding principal at the hands of one of his students. We fared better.


Since then, I’ve had the privilege of setting up the team ministry of a new-build, west of Cambridge. I greatly enjoyed the ministry, though we were still in the days when it was seen as acceptable to pay a married clergywoman half a stipend. (My male replacement was provided with a full stipend, housing provision, office, car allowance, and full expenses.)


I don’t find anger productive or palatable. I’d own up to deep frustration, outrage, profound hurt, or utter mystification, which forces me to address things creatively and seek better options for the future.


Welcoming others to food makes me happy. Also, hospitality, safety, harmonised singing, adventure with purpose, game playing, building an intervention together, seeing truth come to light, and bringing in much-needed change. Laughter based on kindness, wit, the absurd.


Brexit and Covid-19 conspired to ground me from my usual peripatetic schedule, bubbling with my hens, cats, and immediate neighbours.


I started the One Boat Chaplaincy for Covid times: a Facebook page which reached 150,000 impressions a month, with contributions from Mpho Tutu van Furth, June Boyce-Tillman, Don Mullan, Bonnie Evans-Hills, and Yvonne O’Neal.


My two cockerels greeting the morning at 6.30 a.m. means that the rest of the roost is safe.


I have lots of hope, though tinged with realism. Savanta ComRes reports that 51 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds polled said they pray at least once a month, compared with 24 per cent of those aged 55 and over [News, 1 October].


I pray for peace, justice, attention for those who are neglected and persecuted, for homes and safety for those who have no place to call their own. I pray for my children, and for all affected by migration, trafficking, gender justice, and those enduring explicit violence. “Eternal spirit, earth-maker, pain-bearer, life-giver, source of all that is and is to come.” I pray that God’s Kingdom may be realised.


I’d choose to be locked in a church with Janani Luwum, to talk about all that’s occurred since his death, personal and political. Or Josephine Butler, also a clergy wife, like me. I was inspired by her passionate, informed voice raised against gender-based violence by the state and the military, sexual exploitation and child trafficking in the UK, its colonies, and Europe.


The Revd Dr Carrie Pemberton Ford was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.



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