Tackling modern slavery in the future city

Andrew Wallis OBE
CEO - Unseen
18th October 2017

The below is a summary of my talk at the Festival of the Future City on 18th October 2017.

I don’t know how many of you know this, but today is Anti-Slavery Day in the UK. 

Just to put things in context, what are we talking about? 

Modern slavery is the illicit trade in human beings, turned into commodities, to be bought, sold and exploited for vast profits with little chance of punitive action against the perpetrators. 

It’s a trade that effects men, women and children, of all ages, races, creeds and economic backgrounds. Last year in the UK we saw nearly 4,000 victims from 102 different nationalities identified as potential victims. Amongst adults identified in the UK, UK nationals were the fifth most prevalent and amongst children, the second most prevalent.

It is an illicit trade according to the International Labour Organisation that is worth at least $150bn per annum in profits, not turnover – profit and that’s more than Apple, Facebook, Samsung, Vodafone and Microsoft put together. 

Global estimates for the number of victims are around 40 million and in the UK the government will currently admit to up to 13,000 victims at any one time found in situations of slavery, but the National Crime Agency believe that figure now to be the tip of the iceberg and talk about victims in the tens of thousands.

But those numbers can be too big to comprehend, or more likely too removed from you and me. So let’s try a quiz – how many slaves work for you? If you have a smartphone, wear clothing and eat food without trying 40-60 slaves are probably already contributing to your lifestyle. And what about those nail bars that are too cheap and cash only? Or the hand car washes, who again so cheap compared to anywhere else. It is highly likely that your manicure or the polish on your car was performed by someone in forced labour exploitation – a slave!

It is a hidden crime and trade that hides in plain sight but it is a supply and demand trade driven by our addiction to cheap – cheap goods, cheap services, cheap labour, cheap sex and cheap organs.

So, a global problem, a societal problem, as the Prime Minister says the greatest human rights issue of our time, but a problem that you and I are complicit in as well. Due to a combination of our demand for cheap, the impact of globalisation which has lifted a billion out of poverty but plunged millions into forced labour exploitation and the fact that often it is a crime hidden in plain sight on our streets. 

So how do we build resilient societies to this issue? Why discuss this issue at a festival looking at future cities?

The world is on the move with the movement that began in the industrial age from the countryside to the city now in full tilt around the world and although slavery is found both in rural and urban societies it is in the cities that we have the greater opportunities for exploitation. And the exploitation in the rural setting is often connected to supplying the demands of the city.

In the UK we have seen the introduction of legislation, political focus at the national government level and this is beginning to develop at a global level. But legislation and government policy are both blunt instruments but necessary tools. However, it is at the more localised level that we can see the greatest impact and transformation of lives effected by this issue.

So, what do cities need to do to tackle modern slavery and change the equation from low risk, high return to high risk, low return. The devolution of power at a local level has seen the creation of elected mayors and PCC’s allowing for greater focus on the issues that matter.

Whilst tackling modern slavery might not be an obvious vote winner or campaign issue, it is an issue that has embedded itself into the fabric of our society and must be tackled.

Bristol has said it wants to be at the forefront of tackling these issues, but how are we doing? We are uniquely placed given our history of the trans Atlantic slave trade to offer a world leading response to the modern-day slave trade but we are not yet and other cities in the UK are forging ahead.

So, what’s needed? A multi-agency response.

And here's some examples of how the Anti Slavery Partnership is working on this:

Business – Transparency in Supply Chains, Business West Initiative, TISCReport

Policing – focus and understanding. PCC’s making this a strategic priority and funding properly

Local Government – planning, inspection, support and coordination

This alone isn't enough, however.

We are a City of Sanctuary yet victims can’t access housing as they are not deemed at high enough risk. Therefore we are working in 4 key areas to make a positive difference:

Public – awareness and reporting to the UK’s Modern Slavery Helpline and Resource Centre run by Unseen

Media – telling the stories of slavery without further exploiting the individuals

Faith communities – reporting and making people aware especially in closed communities

Future Cities – use of technology to analyse problems, heat map vulnerabilities, developing apps and utilising blockchain

Above all it needs leadership, coordination, focus and resourcing. I’m willing but how about you?

Now that you know, you can choose to look the other way but that’s not really an option, is it? 

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