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Endless lockdown this Christmas for victims of modern slavery

Published
02.12.2020

Our lives may have changed a lot this year, but who is looking out for exploitation when everyone is staying at home?

Today (2 December) is the United Nations’ International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Although it’s a global issue, modern slavery and exploitation still happens here in Gloucestershire.

While many of us are relieved that the lockdown restrictions are being eased again, for many individuals a continuous ‘lockdown’ is a daily reality as they are kept under the control of criminals and organised crime groups. They are forced into modern slavery, for example labour or sexual exploitation.

While national lockdowns are in place to control Coronavirus and save lives, for some people these measures have made them even more vulnerable to modern slavery, and criminals are more likely to get away with it.

No work or less pay

With many businesses being forced to close, those on zero-hour contracts or working in industries such as hospitality may be struggling financially and therefore more likely to be vulnerable to exploitation. Organised crime groups can offer work paying less than minimum wage or even force people into prostitution to pay bills. Other sectors such as construction or agriculture have continued, however these are typically sectors that are at higher risk of modern slavery.

No Zoom zone

Many social and support organisations have temporarily closed or have moved online. Someone who is a potential victim may not have the autonomy or freedom of a mobile phone and access to the internet. As a result there is less opportunity to reach out for help, and potential victims might feel that staying with exploiters is their only option.

Less calls, less action

Criminals taking advantage of this situation are more likely to fly under the radar. Agencies like the police often rely on people reporting what they see when it comes to tackling modern slavery. People in the UK have been encouraged to stay at home, and with less people out and about to spot things that just don’t look right, it means that victims are less likely to be identified.

Although it was being reported less during lockdown, modern slavery and exploitation did not disappear. Latest figures for the Modern Slavery Helpline, run by Bristol-based charity Unseen, show a 50 per cent increase in modern slavery cases in England following the lifting of ‘lockdown 1’ restrictions.

Why Gloucestershire?

In 2018, 61 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking were identified in Gloucestershire. However, the picture is not complete and there are ways residents, businesses and community groups can help public sector organisations to tackle the problem. County council chief executive, Pete Bungard, is chair of the Gloucestershire Anti Slavery Partnership, which has continued to hold board meetings remotely during this time.

It’s not all doom and gloom, and there are ways you can help.

  1. Know the signs and how to report what you see. Visit the Modern Slavery staffnet page to read more and to access the free e-learning module. https://staffnet.gloucestershire.gov.uk/modern-slavery
  2. Share the link with your teams, providers, community groups or anyone who you think may be interested.
  3. Share the knowledge with your friends, family and followers on social media. You could change someone’s life.

If you have any questions about the training please email gasp@gloucestershire.gov.uk

If you see someone who may be a victim of modern slavery, you can call the police on 101, Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or anonymously call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

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