Modern slavery in the UK

Innula Zenovka

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Quite seriously, since the Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into force, pulling together existing offences and also introducing measures to prohibit British companies from using enslaved labour in their overseas supply chains, it's become clear it's an immense problem here, whether as a result of international people trafficking or gangmasters keeping vulnerable people as, in effect, slaves for manual labour.


The same must be true of other countries. France, I know, has similar legislation, and so too do several other EU countries. So, I think, has Australia.

What of the USA, though? It must be a huge problem in a country with so many undocumented immigrants, particularly now the administration is so hostile to them.

The experience of the UK and other countries must suggest that it's not sufficient to say, "Lincoln freed the slaves. We've got the 14th Amendment and the Mann Act, so it's not a problem."
 
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Grandma Bates

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It is a problem in the US. As usual the ways to fight it are decided by party identity rather than based on observable data. For example, I live in a Republican state, and the Governor has been making many announcements about ways to address the problem. All of his approaches focus on those involved in the movement of people. This is a good thing of course, but the people who benefit from the use of the labour are mostly ignored except some of those dealing in sex. The underlying assumption is that business is good and should not have to bear the burden of any kind of regulation that might restrain it.
 

Brenda Archer

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All my knowledge is anecdotal. There are a lot of people who are not slaves exactly, but don’t have normal workers’ rights, like minimum wage, because they’re not legal immigrants.

It’s also still legal to hire disabled people for wages far below minimum wage, and I have heard reports that some of that has been coerced.

I have also seen up close a situation with neighbors who were being controlled by pimps and how the cops would monitor that, but not intervene. Some of what went on appeared to me to be trafficking, but not all. Gangs/organized crime seem to control a lot of lives and that’s certainly slavery when it’s prostitution. I would hear astonishing stories when I was at the medical respite shelter.

At the same time I do know there are charities and law enforcement trying to fight all these problems. I don’t know how that works out precisely.
 

Innula Zenovka

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Thanks, both. Perhaps I should clarify one aspect of terminology, which I suspect may be a specifically British usage.

Over here, a "gangmaster" is a legal term, referring to anyone who employs people to do work which he or she is being paid a third party to arrange. So rather than sourcing, interviewing and hiring all the seasonal workers needed to bring in the harvest, or all the unskilled labourers needed on particular phases of a construction project, the farmer/developer will contract with a gangmaster, who will handle all that and simply turn up, on the day, with all the necessary labourers, and then at the end of the day, drive them back home and pay them himself out of the fee he's received for arranging their services.

Gangmasters are supposed to be licenced, and most of them are and perfectly above board. But some aren't as scrupulous, and the system is certainly open to the most dreadful abuses, as we've seen.

It's not just undocumented immigrants brought here by people-traffickers the rogue gangmasters exploit, although they're obviously particularly vulnerable to this sort of abuse, but also people from elsewhere in the EU who maybe don't speak much English (and have family back home for whose welfare they fear if they upset the gangmaster) and also, it's become all too clear, vulnerable Brits.

There's been a whole series of prosecutions here involving (typically) whole families who have assembled gangs of people whom they have effectively enslaved by approaching vulnerable and homeless people living on the streets with offers of board, lodging and pocket money and then kept them on their isolated farms, living in squalid conditions, unpaid, malnourished, and subject to regular beatings if they step out of line, where they use them as forced labour either for themselves or for others.

 
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