How we make life easy for the modern slavers
Our addiction to cheap, but legal, labour lets slavery hide in plain sight
It Still Happens Here, a report from the Centre for Social Justice and Justice and Care, contains shocking details about the extent of modern slavery as practiced in Britain today. The authors put the number of victims at 100,000 and possibly higher.
But what exactly is “modern slavery”? According to Anti-Slavery International it is the “severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain.” At its worst, victims are held captive and forced, under threat of violence, into degrading, dangerous and unpaid labour.
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But other forms of such exploitation are more subtle, work being rewarded with some (but illegally low) pay and control being exercised through debt servitude, social isolation and other manipulative tactics. As the report puts it: “many victims of modern slavery are unaware that they are being exploited… in some cases, tragically, their experience… can feel like an improvement on the situation they left behind.”
In other words, there is a spectrum of exploitation — all of it evil, but taking many different forms. The criminals responsible for the abuse have become adept at exploiting the grey areas. Indeed, it strikes me that there are parallels — some not so distant — between the exploitation described in the report and legal employment practices.
For instance, victims of modern slavery are often encouraged or compelled to make fraudulent benefit claims — money that can be extracted by the criminals and/or used to supplement poverty pay. That’s appalling, but is it a million miles away from the corporations that rely on tax credits to make their low wage business models bearable to their worst-paid workers? To be clear, the exploitation in the first case is much worse than in the second and completely illegal to boot, but isn’t there a moral continuum that connects the two?
Though we rightly condemn human trafficking, we tolerate, or celebrate, a globalised labour market in which a transient population of workers is deemed essential to the functioning of entire industries. Even if their immigration status is above board, language barriers leave many of them dependent on the goodwill of employers and middlemen — goodwill that cannot be taken for granted.
And what about the conditions in which they’re housed? I wonder how many well-paid London professionals stop to consider how the low paid workers serving them their coffee can afford to live in one of the most expensive cities on the planet?
Hand car washes are mentioned in the report as potential sites of exploitation. But whether or not the law is being kept to in each and every case, are we not at all disturbed that cheap labour is being used to reverse the process of automation? It seems extraordinary that tasks that we once entrusted to machines are now being done by human beings.
Once again, let me stress that I’m not casting doubt on modern slavery as a concept. It’s absolutely right that we have special laws aimed at stopping and punishing the worst categories of abuse. Indeed, the report makes a compelling case for improving our enforcement of those laws.
However, I also worry that our addiction to cheap, but legal, labour helps the illegal stuff to hide in plain sight.
The case needs to be made against human trafficking and enslavement all over again. We need to start by getting the left to admit that Britain is not Utopia, which sounds mad, considering how outwardly full of national self loathing those on the left are. But it seems there is a huge internal conflict between the outward anti patriotic sentiment and the idea that Britain can be a safe haven for the whole world where British tax payers will ensure everyone is housed healthily and paid a decent ‘living wage’.
We have to get the left to understand that if they really hate capitalist exploitation then they need also to hate open borders, people smugglers, mass migration. And we need them to get rid of their ridiculous rose tinted spectacles that assure them once a person from the undeveloped world has reached our shores from France they have arrived in Paradise.
most debates on immigration lack honesty. The recent list of those likely to get easier access to these shores does not include care workers. No-one of course really believes that suddenly lots of white British people are going to come forward to do these jobs; the jobs will be filled by people with insecure residence status who can be easily manipulated and exploited. This has been the normal anyway for years and a rational approach needs to be taken if we are to match the demands of an increasingly ageing population. I am happy to accept the reality that not everyone who wishes to come here can do so but I suggest that there needs to be an acceptance the demographics are going to require immigration at roughly the levels we now have it; and some of those entering the country may have darker skins or speak Eastern European languages. I know Brexit was meant to stop this but it will be, I suspect, one of a number of false promises which were made
Agreed but remember that the people arriving have in some cases risked everything and I imagine many probably believe they have reached Paradise compared to what they left. We should be talking people here not ideologies.
‘We have to get the left to understand that if they really hate capitalist exploitation then they need also to hate open borders, people smugglers, mass migration’
As always Alison you are 100% correct. The problem here is that the left is simply too dumb to understand this.
That’s just ridiculous. Tough restrictions or caps on immigration make people trafficking across borders more likely. Many victims of modern slavery in the UK could earn more on the dole, but can’t because they’re undocumented. Amnesty for undocumented migrants would be the best way to deal with this problem.
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