Britain’s anti-slavery and anti-trafficking ambitions home and abroad

Ayesha is a 12 year old girl, who worked in India as a seamstress. She grew up in a very poor family with five siblings. Her father is the sole breadwinner for the family, earning a small income as a cotton farmer. Since Ayesha is the eldest, she was obliged to help the family financially. As a result, she dropped out of school to work at a textile factory.

What is Britain doing to stop slavery?

British Prime Minister, Theresa May, vowed that the ‘government is determined to build a Great Britain that works for everyone and will not tolerate modern slavery, an evil trade that shatters victims’ lives and traps them in a cycle of abuse’. The British government is seeking to work with other governments to eradicate slavery by providing funds, updating legislation, encouraging multi-national companies to sign up to a new voluntary slavery database and producing promotional material to raise awareness.

When the idea of a Modern Slavery Act first began to fizz on the lips of parliamentarians in 2013, there was one major international loophole to be closed. UK legislation held no requirement for large companies to check their supply chains for slavery. Image credit: Getty Images

When the idea of a Modern Slavery Act first began to fizz on the lips of parliamentarians in 2013, there was one major international loophole to be closed. UK legislation held no requirement for large companies to check their supply chains for slavery.
Image credit: Getty Images

Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, announced that £11 million will form a dedicated modern slavery innovation fund to support, trial and test innovative ways to tackle the scourge of human slavery overseas. In addition, ‘the UK will use over £33 million for its aid budget to create a five-year International Modern Slavery Fund focused on high-risk countries, where victims are known to be regularly trafficked to the UK’.

Britain passed anti-slavery legislation, the Modern Slavery Act, in 2015. The legislation introduced life sentences for traffickers. The Telegraph reported the Modern Slavery Act ‘created a vital policing tool to stop anyone convicted of trafficking from travelling to a country where they are known to have exploited vulnerable people in the past’. The new legislation also encourages companies to disclose what they are doing to make sure their supply chains are free from slavery.

Approximately 100 British companies have paid to sign up to a new voluntary slavery database. Yet, the number is only a fraction of approximately 12,000 businesses in Britain targeted to join the Transparency in the Supply Chain (TISC) databank. TISC allows companies to confidentially admit when they find enslaved workers anywhere in their supply chain. Also, Britain has signed a trade deal with India, which enforces all companies that have a turnover of greater than £36 million to provide annual reports describing actions they have taken to ensure that their supply chain is free from slave labour.

When Ayesha turned 13, the family of a much older man asked Ayesha’s father for permission to marry Ayesha to their son. Ayesha’s father did not approve at first due to the age difference, but he eventually agreed. He thought it would make things easier for the family if he had one fewer child to care for. Though child marriage is banned in India, it is still widespread due to cultural norms. Many rural people, which makes up the majority of India, see nothing wrong with it and indeed a way to assure the security of their children’s lives.

A few months after they were married, Ayesha’s husband was killed in a traffic accident. Ayesha’s mother-in-law was never friendly to her and after the accident became abusive. Therefore, Ayesha decided to go back home to her family, but her father was not happy to see her. He considered her a burden, and someone who he would find difficult to marry off again. Ayesha did not know what to do and decided to go to Delhi where she could find a job.

What is the situation in India?

In India, millions of people are suffering due to forced labour, poverty, mistreatment and child labour. Many of those enslaved work in the supply chains of India’s export-oriented sector. The 2016 Global Slavery index ‘estimates that 45.8 million people are in some form of slavery in 167 countries. 58 percent of people in slavery are living in just five countries: India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan’. It ‘estimated 18.4 million slaves in India, compared to 3.4 million in China and 2.1 million in Pakistan’.

A week passed and Ayesha was on the way to Delhi. Her neighbour recommended that she took the bus that would drive her straight to Delhi, which she did. Once she reached Delhi the driver handed her over to another man who sold her into a brothel. Ayesha was abused for months. She was brainwashed by the brothel owner in order to force her to become a prostitute. Whenever she tried to escape she was caught and beaten up. She often received bruised blue-black eyes, swollen lips and occasionally broken bones.

What more can be done?

Governments and companies are responsible for ensuring that workers are not exploited; that they are safe and that requisite employment, safety and human rights are adhered to. All nations share in this responsibility. While we applaud British initiatives, Britain could do more by providing more meaningful funds, providing tax incentives to those who can prove they produce ethically, and making registration of TISC mandatory with penalties for those companies that are shown to skirt the law. The Modern Slavery Act has some teeth, but only time will tell if they are used.

Tax incentives that reward companies that produce ethically can include reductions in VAT and import duties. These can be funding by penalizing those that break slavery laws. As the number of large non-compliant producers far outweigh the number of ethical producers, the numbers should work, and will give an incentive to all companies to eradicate slavery.

Though some companies will join TISC, as a voluntary measure it is a marketing gimmick at best. Consumers have time and again said they would prefer to purchase clothes that are produced ethically, but when it comes down to it they shop at their favourite stores and care little to understand production methods. With a mandatory database, at least the government can step in when there are egregious cases of slavery. In such cases, retailers should be held responsible using the Modern Slavery Act for prosecution and in serious cases stopping trading. Companies that cannot show their supply chain is free from slavery should carry warning labels in the same way cigarettes do.

A couple of months passed and Ayesha considered herself living dead. She received beatings every day from the brothel owner, who would beat her with a broom stick. Oftentimes he would put a hot pan on Ayesha’s body and burn her skin. Ayesha was facing a horrible environment from which she thought she could not escape from.

Unfortunately, the horrific brutality inflicted on Ayesha is not an isolated case. Thousands of girls are trafficked every year from remote towns to larger cities and abroad. Many are abused or sexually exploited.

The new slavery law and transparency database will hopefully improve the current global situation; however, there is still a long road to eradicating slavery. Funds and awareness alone cannot eliminate slavery. By being producers directly, rather than outsourcing production we can eliminate slavery from our production. We encourage other producers to take a step forward and do the same

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About the Author

Valentina is passionate in expressing her voice through her writing, which she hopes will have a social impact. She grew up as a third culture kid that always fought for what is right and achieved a BA Hons. in International Business in order to understand the business world more clearly and leave a possible mark on society. Currently she is working for an ethical start-up company called Chanzez. Chanzez has been set up to provide people with chances whether they are people who design clothes, people who work to make clothes or people who want to be able to buy ethically produced clothes.

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