Make the Our City and County Slavery Free

Leicestershire has a long connection with anti-slavery campaigns. Thomas Babington of Rothley was a close friend of William Wilberforce, who often came here to work on their campaign more than 200 years ago. They would have been as horrified as we are to learn that of the 135,000 probable victims in the UK, at least 10,000 are living in our diocese. 

As much as we may wish slavery was no longer with us, the latest estimates suggest that 50 million people worldwide are trapped in forced labour, sexual exploitation, and forced marriage. That’s an increase of nearly 10 million in the past five years. So, this anti-slavery day, our region’s commitment to ending this exploitation for good must continue.

Last year, Mothers’ Union members and others created chains of knitted links, with each link representing a victim. In the end, we made 11,200 – I don’t apologise if we made too many, because we prayed over each one. And although we do not know those victims, and may never meet them, what we do know about them is that they need our prayers. 

When it comes to modern slavery, we often use the phrase ‘hidden in plain sight’ - that is an apt description of the men, women and children who have fallen victim to criminal gangs who control them. We may think of victims of modern-day slavery as locked away in a darkened room, or forced to work in hidden locations. But, in reality, victims of modern-slavery can be anywhere and everywhere. 

They could serve you in a shop, ring you from a call centre, wash your car, care for your loved ones in a care home, or work in the local factory. A particular cause for concern is the increase in the number of children getting involved in drug running through the infamous county lines. Children in our communities and schools can be put in serious danger by criminal gangs who use them to transport drugs from big cities into smaller towns and villages. 

In honour of anti-slavery day, the Church of England’s Clewer Project has launched a new campaign, ‘Make It Slavery Free’. Churches, businesses, groups and individuals are asked to make three commitments which could help fight modern slavery. Whether it is putting up awareness posters, completing one of their online training courses, or one of the other ideas below, what all of us will want to do is pray. 

•   Pray for the victims, and those who are vulnerable to being preyed upon because of their desperation for work, food and shelter.
•   Pray for the police and the authorities who are trying to stamp out this evil trade
•   Pray for greater awareness of modern slavery in the general population, so that victims can be identified and supported more easily
•   And, yes, pray for perpetrators, that they might see the wrong in what they are doing and cease exploiting their fellow human beings

The current economic climate will make many more people vulnerable to being trafficked by people who promise a way out of dire straits. We need to pray for their safety and, as far as we are able, look out for them.

Ways you can help make the Diocese of Leicester Slavery-Free

Safeguarding training – if you’re a Parish or Diocesan Safeguarding Officer, attending one of the Clewer Initiative’s safeguarding training sessions will give you the tools and knowledge to recognise and respond to issues relating to modern slavery.

Use the Safe Car Wash App – the hand car wash sector has been repeatedly identified as a key sector for labour exploitation? Clewer’s Safe Car Wash App enables you to identify and report modern slavery at your hand car wash.

Aim for Net Zero Carbon – the climate emergency has seen many places become uninhabitable, forcing people to flee their homes and become refugees at risk of falling into the hands of traffickers. Reducing our carbon footprint as churches and individuals may help vulnerable communities thousands of miles away.

Interrogate the supply chain – with the cost of living crisis squeezing our finances, it can be hard to commit to only purchasing Fairtrade products. However, companies want to satisfy their consumers so let them know how important a Slavery Free supply chain is to you - you can write to them or contact them on social media. If you’re hiring a contractor or cleaning staff, look out for tell-tell signs (such as only accepting cash) that their employer may be exploiting them. If you are concerned that someone in your church is a victim of labour exploitation, report it to your Parish Safeguarding Officer.

Slavery-proof your social action projects – there are often many vulnerable people at church food banks, night shelters and even Mum & Baby drop-in centres. Some of the people using your social action projects may be victims of modern slavery and exploitation or could be targeted and recruited by traffickers whilst attending your project. Make sure people involved in the project are aware of the signs of modern slavery, and what to do if they see a potential victim. You could also display awareness-raising posters where your social action project takes place. 

First published on: 14th October 2022
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