I heard a story a couple of weeks ago about a lady who came to the UK looking for work and a safe place to live. It turned out that she’d been trafficked by a gang who had promised her these things, but soon after arriving, they took away her passport and forced her to work long hours, in squalid conditions, until the cost of her travel and board were paid off. She worked 7 days a week for 30 pence a day and any resistance was met with pitiless violence. Through tears, she reflected on her experience of being starved, beaten and abused by a group of people who were profiting from her enslavement. Thankfully she escaped and came to live in a safe house provided by the charity Unseen. The lady has been lovingly supported by the organisation’s staff, who are helping her to deal with the trauma of being trafficked and discover hope for a brighter future.
Hearing this story made me angry. Angry at the brutality of the traffickers, angry that this occurred in the UK and angry that this is happening now. Having watched movies and documentaries about the social injustices of the past; the transatlantic slave trade, US civil rights abuses, South African apartheid, I have always told myself that if it was happening in my lifetime, I would have been there, behind Wilberforce, Luther King and Mandela, supporting the cause, championing change, whatever the cost. But it’s easy to look back from the ivory tower of retrospect, isn’t it? I want to have an answer for my future grandchildren when they look back on today and ask, “Where were you when people were being trafficked and enslaved in your country?” “What did you do about it?”
I heard this story at an event put on by Unseen to mark their 10th anniversary. The charity was formed in 2009 as a response to the founder’s increasing awareness of human trafficking in his city of Bristol. He had began to see that there were tens, maybe even hundreds of people living in slavery, working in car washes, nail bars, massage parlours, on farms and building sites, hidden in plain sight. Unseen began as a means of providing safe houses for victims of human trafficking and has since gone on to be involved in the formation of the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015) and the creation of the UK Modern Slavery Helpline (2016), as well as providing aftercare support for victims and training up members of the Police, NHS and business community in recognising and responding to signs of trafficking.
The good news is that, thanks to the work of organisations like Unseen, we as a country are becoming more and more aware of this unacceptable reality. Last year the modern slavery helpline received 7,401 calls, a 67% uplift from the year before. People are becoming more vigilant and responsive. The tide is beginning to turn, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
Find out more about the work of Unseen at: www.unseenuk.org
Modern Slavery Helpline: 08000 121 700
Blue Bear Coffee Co. donates 100% of its profit to organisations fighting human trafficking and caring for survivors. We are very proud to support the work of Unseen as one of our 2019 beneficiaries.