MODERN slavery is a global pandemic that is peaking across the country, the General Synod heard during a debate on human trafficking on Wednesday afternoon.
A motion from Durham diocesan synod was carried unanimously with an amendment from Southwark diocese. This asked the Synod to hold the Government to account on protecting victims of child-trafficking, including those who were now vulnerable adults seeking asylum in the UK.
Introducing the motion, which had been waiting for debate in the Synod since 2018, Alistair Bianchi (Durham) welcomed the amendment. It acknowledged, he said, new developments in trafficking, including the threat of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which was being debated in the House of Lords this week (News, 4 February). Several bishops are lobbying to remove clauses that, they say, would undo the work of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act in protecting victims of trafficking who have sought refuge in this country (News, 10 January).
Mr Bianchi, who has been involved in rehabilitating trafficking victims in the UK and in Ghana, said: “Children should, first and foremost, be treated as children.” The Nationality and Borders Bill put minors in a “highly vulnerable position”, where they must be supported and protected. “We must ensure the Government is held to account on this.”
Moving the amendment, the Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich, the Ven. Alastair Cutting (Southwark), referred to a plaque in Holy Trinity, Clapham, which stated that slavery had been abolished in 1853. “Sadly, we know that 200 years later slavery has not been abolished.” It was evident abroad, in the UK, and in both urban and rural settings, he said.
Slavery did not simply equate to poor working conditions, but a multitude of abuses, including sexual abuse, county lines, coercive control, and organ harvesting to name a few. “Slavery is a global pandemic, and we have peaks of it across our country now,” he said. “An estimated 136,000 victims in the UK.”
The amendment asked the Government to continue to take “bold decisions” in this area, use existing resources to raise awareness, and introduce training within parishes and congregations.
Beginning a short debate on the amendment, Nadine Daniel (Liverpool), a former national refugee welcome officer for the Archbishops’ Council and anti-slavery officer for diocese of Liverpool, warned that it was “dangerous” for people with only “a little bit of learning” on the subject to go in with a saviour complex.
She had left a previous post because it was a church project that had run out of money. The trustees of the Church-backed Clewer Initiative (News, 20 Ocotber 2017) funded their own work and did not have the money for training. “If it is under-resourced, best-case scenario: the people that you are trying to save will be lost, disappear in the system, as tens of thousands of them did during lockdown; worst-case scenario: people in your church will get hurt.”
The amendment was carried by a counted vote: 301 in favour, two against, with three abstentions.
In the debate on the amended motion, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that, although the Church could be proud of its contribution to the Modern Slavery Act, there was much still to be done. Research suggested that migrant victims and witnesses with insecure asylum status were less likely to disclose slavery and abuse because they feared deportation by the Home Office — a fact which perpetrators exploited.
“There is a clear conflict of interest between upholding immigration rules whilst also offering safeguarding to vulnerable victims,” Bishop Mullally said. The same issue had been raised, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, through an amendment that had been rejected by the Government (News, 12 February 2021). “The loophole has appeared again in the Nationality and Borders Bill.”
The Bishop had tabled an amendment to rectify this, but the Government had again resisted. The Bill was failing the most vulnerable in society, she said. The Church needed “to step up what we do if we are truly going to care” for these people.
The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, thanked Bishop Mullally and the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Paul Butler, for “being up at silly o-clock” in the Lords to debate the Nationality and Borders Bill. As it stood, it would undermine current anti-slavery legislation, she warned. Currently, the victim might lose support if they had been convicted of a criminal offence with a prison sentence of 12 months or more anywhere or at any time. “Imagine what risk that puts sex workers who have been trafficked and young people caught up in county lines,” she said.
The Bill also put time-limits on disclosure. The Church knew from its safeguarding work how long it took for survivors to tell the truth — this was “piecemeal and over time” as people found their voice.
The Revd Matthew Beer (Litchfield) said: “Slavery is a blight on our post-modern and individualistic society, where ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a real challenge.” He urged the Synod to commit time, prayer, effort, and resources to the challenge. “Real people are carrying the scars of trafficking” in every town and community in this country, he said; 120 had been trafficked in his area alone.
In the past decade, Canon Rachel Mann (Manchester) said that Manchester diocese had assisted 400-500 people who had been trafficked from England, Ireland, and overseas. These statistics should “leave none of us to doubt the horrifying pervasiveness of modern slavery”. She supported the motion and extra substance of the amendment. The Government was in serious danger of damaging the ground-breaking work of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, she warned.
Members voted 331 in favour, nem. con.:
That this Synod:
(a) acknowledge the leading role that Her Majesty’s Government has played internationally in challenging slavery; and
(b) ask Her Majesty’s Government to ensure the proper protection of minors who are trafficked and enslaved is enshrined in law including updating the 2018 Working Together to Safeguard Children Statutory Guidance in accordance with the request from the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and to implement the other findings of her Annual Report in particular around effective access to support, accommodation, work and education for victims of modern slavery;
c. encourage all dioceses, deaneries, and parishes in the Church of England to raise awareness of modern slavery in our communities in the UK and internationally, working with the resources from partners such as the Church of England’s Clewer Initiative and others, helping individuals and congregations to address this evil by:
i. seeking to identify potential victims of modern slavery in the community, and
ii. offering services to victims and survivors,
iii. supporting organisations which already provide services to help people leaving exploitation and/or with preventative work;
d. encourages dioceses, safeguarding leads, and training institutions and organisations in using resources like these within existing training, especially where individuals hold roles in authorised ministry, embedding understanding of modern slavery and equipping them with ways to respond;
e. ask that the issues of challenging human trafficking and modern slavery are raised at the global gathering of bishops of the Anglican Communion at the 2022 Lambeth Conference, and that the conference consider the international Church’s role in tackling injustice and violence around the world and address the factors which create vulnerability to exploitation; and
f. call on all individuals to pray regularly for victims and survivors of modern slavery and for those organisations working to help and support them both in the UK and overseas, that we may come closer to fulfilling Jesus’ injunction to ‘proclaim release to the captives