“Today, we must again proclaim freedom, shocking the complacent and complicit, and giving hope to the enslaved.”
THE Archbishop of Canterbury spoke these words in 2016, at a service commemorating William Wilberforce and marking the launch of the post of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Much has happened in the intervening years, but now is not the time to become complacent. In fact, modern slavery has continued to increase. In 2021, over 10 million more people were enslaved across the world than in 2016. The number of potential modern slavery victims referred to the UK’s National Referral Mechanism has gone up by 20 per cent. Our current economic climate risks a further increase in this exploitation.
So, what should we do?
The prophet Isaiah speaks of “proclaim[ing] freedom for the captives”. Themes of freedom from oppression, and creating a more just and loving society, are repeated throughout scripture. Slavery is a dangerous fusion of commodification and dehumanisation. This flies in the face of scripture, which sets out how we are all made in the image of God.
Each of us in our daily lives can take action to combat modern slavery. The Church of England’s Clewer Initiative has a series of apps to help us all spot the signs of slavery and report them (News, 17 July 2020).
This Anti-Slavery Day, the Clewer Initiative launches a campaign Make It Slavery Free, calling on churches, businesses, and individuals to deliver three anti-slavery actions this year. Whether it’s attending modern slavery and safeguarding training, using an anti-slavery app, or raising awareness, any action — no matter how big or small — can help someone in desperate circumstances.
DESPITE the increase in modern slavery, the Government has yet to appoint its next Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. It is essential that this post is filled to allow the important work of monitoring the modern slavery sector, detecting and prosecuting offences, and maintaining essential relationships can continue at full capacity.
Add to this the conflation of modern slavery and immigration policies and communications, resulting in dangerous consequences for those in vulnerable circumstances.
The Nationality and Borders Act does this in its penalisation of those who disclose modern slavery status later on, as a result failing to take into consideration the harsh reality of being a victim of modern slavery and making it significantly more challenging to access support services. I was glad to speak in support of Lord Coaker’s amendments to set this right when the legislation was passing through Parliament (News, 11 March). Very sadly, the Government did not agree to the amendments. I will be continuing to monitor and press for evidence there.
THE former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has now claimed that “our modern slavery laws are being abused by people gaming the system”, and that there has been a “450 per cent increase in modern slavery claims since 2014”.
These statements increase damaging suspicion of genuine modern slavery victims, and they have also been found to be dubious. The chief executive of the UK’s Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, Elysia McCaffrey, says: “We don’t see people gaming the system. That’s not our experience. What we see is vulnerable people who are being exploited by opportunists and criminals.” Approximately nine out of ten referrals to the National Referral Mechanism are found to have “reasonable grounds” as modern slavery victims.
It may not be comfortable to do so, but we need to ask ourselves whether we are complicit in perpetuating narratives that punish those enslaved. In attempts to create a more secure United Kingdom, is the Government in fact creating a more insecure future for those who need our help?
The Rt Revd Vivienne Faull is the Bishop of Bristol.
Tuesday 18 October is Anti-Slavery Day