The blight of modern slavery came under the spotlight at a conference held at Epping Forest District Council on 10 March 2016.
The conference were shown films by Unchosen – a hard-hitting website. Through films it tells the story of slaves and the people who exploit them.
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- Councillor Gary Waller Epping Forest District Council’s Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Community Safety
- Tony Byrne of the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA)
- Diane Payner of the Salvation Army
- Anna Di Mascio from Barnados
A modern blight
Gary Waller is also chairman of the Community Safety Partnership a group of local organisations including the Council, Essex Police and Social Services. He reminded delegates that slavery was officially banned in the UK hundreds of years ago and yet it still blights modern lives.
He passed over to Diane Payner of the Salvation Army. She presented the first of the morning’s videos, a heart-rending insight on people trafficking from Eastern Europe into the western sex trade.
Preying on women and children
Anna Di Mascio of Barnardo’s moved the focus from the exploitation of women to the trafficking of children, brought to the UK and forced into a life of crime, forced marriage and forced labour. Control, intimidation and threats are used not just against the young children but also their families.
The criminals range across Eastern Europe, Africa and South-East Asia, preying on desperate families searching for a better life for their children. The criminals try to stay one step ahead of the authorities, changing routes and counties of origin as law enforcement agencies track them.
Anna Di Mascio says the most prevalent counties of origin are Vietnam, Albania, the UK itself, Nigeria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Romania, Bangladesh, China and the Czech Republic.
Isolated and afraid
Many people caught up in slavery are too afraid to seek help. Others don’t understand that they are being exploited, having been brainwashed by their captors into thinking the abuse is normal. Others pretend to their families that all is well to protect them from worry. The emotional and psychological damage can be as bad as the physical harm they experience.
Men are victims too
Modern slavery is hidden within plain view but there are signs anyone can see. Tony Byrne of the Gangmaster Licensing Authority focuses of forced labour.
He reminded delegates of the Morcambe Bay tragedy in which 21 people died and presented a video depicting forced labour on a chicken farm with the intervention of an ordinary member of the public reporting concerns to the police. He said that within local agriculture and horticulture forced labour will be taking place somewhere.
The GLA also covers food processing and packaging and shellfish processing. Eastern European men are at particular risk of this, predominately exploited by criminals of the same nationalities. The Police cover other areas such as the catering and hospitality industries.
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