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Modern slavery and homelessness: René Cassin workshop

Posted on Monday, December 2nd, 2019

by Alice Akca, René Cassin Intern

 “The majority of modern slavery victims in the UK are from the UK.”

This statement, presented to us by Caroline Barnard, Communications Officer, from The Clewer Initiative at our first workshop, was one of multiple surprising facts offered to us that evening. We often view modern slavery as an issue akin those arriving from other countries, thus falling vulnerable to exploitation. Though not false, the actual issue of modern slavery within the UK is revealed to be much more nuanced.

René Cassin recently held two workshops on the intersection between homelessness and modern slavery, and I was lucky enough to attend both workshops taking away with me some important knowledge.

For the purpose of consistency, this definition used during the workshop for modern slavery was:
Modern Slavery – encompasses slavery, human trafficking, servitude, forced or compulsory labour. Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment’.

The first workshop introduced modern slavery, covering a breadth of information including forms of modern slavery, the victim pathway, signs to spot and ways one can report an incident of suspected modern slavery (modern slavery helpline linked here). The second surprising revelation of the evening was discovering that the Home Office reported the number of potential victims of modern slavery in the UK as being anywhere between 13,000 – 136,000, though the real number could be much higher. The lack of clarity on these numbers represents the complicated nature of modern slavery. Although reporting is becoming more widespread, increased understanding of the issue is necessary to heighten our senses to possible signs of modern slavery around us, when volunteering at our local soup kitchen for example.

Caroline then explained County Lines, a term used to explain a gang-led drug operation that very often involves child criminal exploitation. This is a pressing issue as children tend to be the main victims when concerning this branch of modern slavery, often involving labour exploitation, a topic covered in the recent BBC Three documentary ‘Britain’s Teenage Drug Runners’.

We ended the first session by engaging in possible modern slavery scenarios that may be presented to us, a participation group mainly made up of volunteers and workers at drop-in centres, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. This was useful as it allowed us to put theories into context and consider possible reporting options also explained by Caroline.

The second session built on our background obtained from the first, now connecting modern slavery to the issue of homelessness. This session was led by Dr Julia Tomas, the Anti-Slavery Coordinator at The Passage, and supplemented our now existing knowledge with information surrounding perpetrators, victim support and The National Referral Mechanism.

One of the most sobering realisations was the severe harm modern slavery can do to one’s mental health, a big component of the victim-homelessness cycle. We were presented a film depicting a victim and asked to present potential signs we could identify. Julia then explained the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and providing appropriate protection and support, touching on her personal suggestions for first responders to pursue depending on the scenario of modern slavery suspected. This part of the workshop was filled with practical advice for us all moving forward.

As the second workshop drew to a close, I, as well as other participants, experienced a novel sense of consciousness surrounding the pressing issue of modern slavery in the UK. These were no longer unreachable tragedies but opportunities where we, as people closer to the issue, could spot potential victims and offer support. We left with vital knowledge and tools to aid our participation in the fight against modern slavery.

René Cassin would like to once again thank Caroline and Julia for their invaluable expertise and insight into this important human rights issue. For more information and to be the first to know about future workshops by René Cassin, sign up to our newsletter here.