Modern Slavery, a scourge on our nation

modern slavery hell

Modern Slavery seems so unlikely and yet…Our guest speaker on Wednesday 10 March was Simon John, Co-Founder member of the Rotary Action Group Against Slavery (RAGAS). His talk was both fascinating and alarming. Rotary is joining forces to help eradicate Modern Slavery but it is all around us even here in the UK and we may all be contributing to slavery’s continued success.

So what do we mean by Modern Slavery?

‘Slavery is defined as the total CONTROL of one person by another, with a view to the economic exploitation of their labour, with the use or threat of VIOLENCE, to maintain that control’ It involves the loss of effective free will – Can they walk away?

All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing Edmund Burke


First the history. We all know about the history of the transatlantic slavery ships. But do we really understand the horror and unspeakable treatment of human beings whose skin was a different colour? Simon shared some pretty difficult-to-digest facts.

This is the lower deck plan of the slave ship Brookes. In 1789, 482 enslaved Africans were crammed on board. In order to raise capital for the venture, posters were printed that bragged about the efficiency of cramming so many slaves on board.

Dutch Slave ship Luesden foundered Jan. 1738; 702 slaves drowned after hatches nailed down. Why because the crew escaped with the non-human cargo and didn’t want the slaves coming after them!

The slave ship Zong threw 133 slaves overboard because navigation errors had extended the voyage; thus reducing the necessary food supply.

Comparing modern and transatlantic slavery

When you start to make the comparison it shows that both the transatlantic slave trade and modern slavery today have the same purpose which is to maximise huge profits. Their treatment of the slaves is the same, meaning that slaves in both eras had and have a much-reduced life expectancy. Modern Slavery today continues to hold the same disregard and contempt for human rights practised by the Slave ship Owners in the past.

So why the dramatic increase in modern slaves today?

The last two decades have brought unprecedented political instability. There is poverty, war, and migration leading to vulnerable rootless people on the move. According to UNCHR, 79.5 million people around the world had been forcibly displaced making them easy prey.

Just for a moment think about what it’s like to live in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea Somalia, Mali. Would you flee if bombs were raining down on Swindon?

Separated from their support structures with limited ways to provide for their families, displaced people are highly susceptible to being deceived into exploitation by traffickers promising a better life. Traffickers (spotters) have or acquire particular skill in identifying VULNERABILITY

In October 2019, 39 Vietnamese migrants (two aged 15) were found dead in Grays, Essex from a lack of oxygen

There’s only one group that benefits from the refugee crisis: human traffickers – criminal gangs taking advantage of the European migration crisis to force people into slavery.

And another major reason for slavery’s comeback is western society’s; our insatiable demand for cheap goods: such as fast fashion clothing.

So let’s get closer to home

Where are the 89 Swindon migrant workers who are missing since the Swindon nail bars and car washes and some takeaways have been closed by lockdown. Have they been trafficked to other parts of the country?

Six people were arrested during Swindon modern slavery raids: Five adults were identified as suspected victims (brothels)

A dawn police raid smashed a county lines drug gang that forced 40 kids (aged 14>) at Kingsdown School Swindon to deal in cannabis and cocaine.

15 people were found alive in a lorry trailer in Wiltshire after reports of suspicious activity

Here lies (in our hands) part of the solution.

Lost in plain sight

Indirect slave use by UK citizens

Modern Slavery includes internet porn: 4.8 million people are victims of forced sexual exploitation; many of those online. In the UK alone 8.2M attempts to watch live child sex abuse – often in The Philippines –
Then we have ‘knock-off ‘goods such as handbags, sunglasses etc. You really shouldn’t buy these items when on holiday even though the seller seems to be a great guy.
And of course the illegal drug market with small factory production and County Lines delivery.

And direct use…

There are approximately 136,000 enslaved people in UK as estimated by the Global Slavery Index:

One in around 200 people in the UK are modern slaves. In 2017 top five nationalities of slaves were: UK nationals, Albanian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Nigerian.  

HMG have recorded domestic servitude, labour & sexual exploitation, organ harvesting as modern slavery. And of course, buying illegal drugs encouraging cannabis growth and county lines for their distribution

What have slaves ever done for you?

When you look in your shopping basket online or in person. Do you know how many products are made by slave labourers? Clothes from H & M and Primark are cheap because they are made in the sweatshops of Bangladesh; cheap trainers are made in Sri Lanka; Christmas decorations made in Pakistan. What is more, some of the thousands of child slaves in Ghana and The Ivory Coast have likely picked the cocoa for your chocolate.

So what to do?

Check out the RAGAS website and their Facebook page to learn more about avoiding using slave work. The has lots of guides to safe buying from energy and fashion clothing to technology and travel. There are also apps for your phone where you can check out clothing purchases such as Good On You with more than 2,000 ethical brands listed. there are also apps for reporting concerns around farmworkers and finding SAFE car washes. And if something just doesn’t seem right call UNSEEN on 08000 121 700

We are powerful

Simon finished his presentation by reminding us of the starfish story. This is about a young woman walking on the beach with her boyfriend when she spots a stranded starfish. She picks it up and throws it back into the sea. Her boyfriend laughs and says you cannot save the starfish they are always getting stranded. She replies “but I did save that one”. We are not being asked to end all slavery – just help make a difference to that one…imagine him or her. Think of the difference already made by Greta Thurnberg and Malala Yousafzai. We are asked to “set the downtrodden free”

If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Archbishop Desmond Tutu

For more information or to offer your support contact Simon John email: or through Rotary Action Group Against Slavery UK Facebook page

Simon is cycling from Lands End to John O Groats to raise funds and awareness of modern slavery. You can read more of his planned trip here and support him too.

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