Two centuries after William Wilberforce, exploitation and forced labour are back on the rise in Britain

In its modern form, victims of slavery are physically, psychologically or financially trapped and then forced into labour

Share

There is much that is shocking in the allegations about three women kept in slavery for 30 years in an apparently ordinary house in south London. If true, how could such barbarism go undetected for so long that the youngest of the trio – now aged 30 – is thought to have lived her entire life in captivity? How was it that the situation came to light only through the auspices of a charity?

Yet what is more appalling even than this particular case – much of which is, as yet, unclear – is that slavery is not as rare as might be assumed. Only last month, an 84-year-old man was sent to prison for 13 years for the repeated rape of a girl whom he and his wife (also jailed) trafficked into the UK and then kept in a cellar for nearly a decade. In May, a father and son were jailed for holding destitute men as slaves at a caravan park in Leighton Buzzard. And yesterday, a Home Office minister admitted that the number of such cases is expected to keep rising.

Slavery – to our shame – is back. Historically, it was about ownership; in its modern form, victims are physically, psychologically or financially trapped and then forced into labour – be it manual, domestic or sexual – with no pay and little chance of escape. According to the Centre for Social Justice, such exploitation can be found everywhere from factories to fields, brothels to construction sites – and, of course, in houses.

What is not known is the scale of the problem. Indeed, modern-day slavery is still little understood – not least, as is clear from the cases cited here, because it manifests in so many different ways. Some victims are trafficked into Britain and turned over to gangmasters to pick cockles or work on farms. Some – adults and children – are trafficked and forced into prostitution. Some come as domestic help and are then confined and abused. Nor are all victims of slavery migrants; Britons are also at risk.

As if the crimes themselves were not complicated enough, the official response is hardly less so. Between the lack of reliable data, the often blurred lines between legal employment and slavery and the national neurosis over immigration, it is perhaps little wonder that even such gross practices as slavery appear to be slipping through the net.

There are moves to get to grips with the phenomenon. In August, the Home Secretary set out plans for a Modern Slavery Bill (to go before Parliament this year) which will toughen up penalties for trafficking and, no less importantly, create an Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Both are a sure step in the right direction. But it is not enough to tighten up the laws governing gangmasters, say; the inspection regime must also be improved. Equally, moves to shift the focus from a trafficked person’s immigration status to their position as the victim of a crime is both morally and practically vital, but the authorities – police, social workers, local councils – must also be trained in what to look for and how to respond.

Finally, there is a role for the rest of us here, too. For business, that means taking proper care over suppliers. For citizens, it means paying more attention to those around us. According to the police, the three Lambeth women are Britain’s worst case of modern slavery. It is not enough to be shocked. We must act.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable