On 26 April 2019, a family of 4 were jailed in Nottingham, U.K., for keeping a 51 year old Polish man as a slave. It is reported that he was made totally dependent on the family, for money, food and shelter. He was forced to work in car washes, given two meals a day and only provided with £4 for his bus fare, the rest of his wages were kept by the perpetrators as profit. The court heard he had no clothes except for the ones he was wearing and had been made to shave his head, as he was ‘unhygienic’ and ‘dirty’. Modern slavery in the U.K. is not simply one human being owning another with a total power imbalance. Instead, it can be defined as being forced to work for someone, whilst being under threat and control by the employer. Other forms of modern slavery can include sex trafficking and exploitation. The global slavery index estimates that as many as 136,000 people may be living in modern-day slavery in the U.K., a figure ten times higher than the government’s estimate. In recent years, charities such as the Salvation Army, Anti-Slavery.org and others have tried to bring forward the increase in human rights violations that are ongoing in modern day Britain.
The increase in modern slavery has gone unnoticed by the British government and other institutions who need to carry out support and recovery for victims and tighter preventative methods. Jasmine O’Connor, CEO of Anti-Slavery International, said the U.K. government’s “hostile environment” policy towards migrants had helped create space for slavery to flourish. “Slavery thrives when we allow discrimination and a hostile environment for migrants. If someone is treated like a criminal when they don’t have the right papers, they are easy prey for traffickers, who can act with impunity,” she said. Sadly, “Only 1% of victims of slavery have a chance to see their exploiter brought to justice” as stated by Kevin Hyland, U.K. Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Whilst multiple charities and human rights advocates work towards ending modern slavery, the active actions by the British government need to be questioned. The hostile environment that exists within the structure of British society and its key institutions needs to change. The failure of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in 2009 highlights how weak the government’s actions are. The NRM sent potential cases, which were then assessed and if seen as acts of slavery, the person was given the “required” support. However, it was an ineffective process and in 2015 the Modern Slavery Act was introduced. The act focused on the punishment of the perpetrators, but what its failure is that it over-emphasizes the importance of prosecution and has no victim provision protection – a key ingredient of any successful anti-slavery legislation.
Whilst the act has been welcomed in recent years, it is clear that it is failing the people who are victims. There is a long way to come for the government, and whilst they have acknowledged this ongoing human rights violation, it’s failing to reach those who need their help the most. The solution is for the government to stop generating the environment of hostility towards migrants and work with the NGO’s and key organizations, such as the police who need to be able to find potential acts of slavery and work towards a more preventive measure and a support system for those already affected. It wasn’t until the 51 year old Polish man tried to end his life that the police became aware of this case of slavery. If more prevention, awareness and support for victims existed, it may not have taken so long to find this case in a country which apparently ended slavery in 1833.