Making the Jewish Case for Human Rights – Modern Day Slavery

As survivors of slavery in Egypt and in Nazi Europe, the Jewish community has a powerful voice in raising awareness of modern day slavery, and in helping those affected.

Someone is in slavery if:

  • They are forced to work – through mental or physical threat
  • They are owned or controlled by an ‘employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse
  • They are dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’
  • They are physically constrained or have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement.

In 2015 the UK passed the Modern Slavery Act (MSA). Provisions within the Act include an increase in maximum sentences for trafficking offenders, assured protection for victims and the establishment of the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

“This is the great human rights issue of our time”

Prime Minister Theresa May

Modern slavery exists in many forms – including forced labour, forced marriage and human trafficking. There are over 40 million people in modern day slavery around the world. In the United Kingdom, the Home Office estimates that 13,000 people are victims of slavery or trafficking (however the number estimated by civil society organisations is close to 100,000).

René Cassin campaigns for the implementation of a long-term and holistic support system for survivors of modern day slavery and human trafficking. We call for a smarter, more humane treatment for those victims who come forward and, where necessary, for them to be given greater rights.

However, there is wider sector agreement that the Act needs ‘to put victims at the heart of everything we do’ and ensure a longer support system for victims of modern day slavery.

René Cassin – a voice in Parliament

We and our partners have argued that the provisions of the MSA, though welcome, do not go far enough, and urge government to extend the specialist support provided for victims from 45 days to 12 months. 45 days is far too short a time for victims to recover from the brutalising and dehumanising conditions that most have experienced.

René Cassin has made several submissions to Parliament, presenting evidence that the MSA is not working as it should. We have shown that immigration regulations often take priority over the victims’ rights to support from the MSA. This was the focus of our case in our submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee consultation on slavery as well as the Parliamentary consultation initiated by Frank Field MP in 2018.

Awareness in the Jewish community

National campaigns by our partners are creating awareness across the UK. We have been working hard to support these efforts by tailoring national messages to the Jewish community. We have talked to pupils at Jewish schools and to communities in synagogues. We dedicated our Human Rights Shabbat in both 2016 and 2017 to the issue of modern day slavery and published a resource pack for Rabbis and community leaders to reference in their sermons and newsletters. We regularly mobilise our supporters and members of the Jewish community to raise awareness of modern day slavery with their MPs, especially in advance of Parliamentary debates.

“Together with René Cassin, we fundraised for the Snowdrop Project, a charity based in Sheffield, which provides long-term, community support to empower survivors of human trafficking. RSY-Netzer is so proud of the £350 raised to support survivors of human trafficking. Crucial to our movement’s ideology is the importance of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. Improving the lives of victims of human trafficking in the UK allows us to start locally and extend ourselves beyond.”

Lara Glantz, Movement worker for RSY-Netzer

With our guide for small and medium business designed to ensure compliance with anti-slavery best practice in supply chains, we encourage businesses to commit to tackling modern day slavery.

Inspiring our youth in the fight against slavery

The issue of slavery is one which motivates our community’s youth. We received many excellent, thoughtful and moving responses to our 2017 essay competition, judged by legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg, which was devoted to the issue of modern day slavery. Two of the winners became volunteer activists dedicated to addressing the issue of slavery.

René Cassin and the Chief Rabbi

In 2017, we introduced Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to Kevin Hyland, the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Together with the Chief Rabbi, we communicated the Jewish community’s horror at the re-emergence of slavery in our times. In an article he later published, the Chief Rabbi issued a call to arms to the UK Jewish community, arguing that ‘slavery demands our urgent attention’.

“The foundations of Jewish belief stand on the principle that all people are created in the image of God and every single person, deserves to be treated with respect. Speaking out against the flagrant violations of human dignity implicit in this crime, should be in our DNA.”

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Read or download Making the Jewish Case for Human Rights in the UK as a PDF