Slavery is not history. It would be comforting to think that it ended with William Wilberforce’s Abolition Act in 1833. But it didn’t. It is here and it is now. A thoroughly modern manifestation of heartless exploitation and human misery. All happening today, right under our noses. No wonder Theresa May called it ‘the great human rights issue of our time’.
We tend to think that human rights abuses happen in faraway places or secret locations. Perhaps that’s why we fail to ‘see’ modern slavery and human trafficking. It is hiding in plain sight, in the nail bars, car washes and building sites we pass every day. Yet, the Global Slavery Index estimates that there are as many as 136,000 victims of slavery and trafficking in the UK.
Evidence strongly suggests a link between slavery and another growing social injustice – that of homelessness. It is a vicious circle. People on the street are preyed on by traffickers. If they manage to escape slavery, the paucity of support available means they are liable to end up destitute and back
That is why René Cassin has teamed up with anti-slavery charity, The Clewer Initiative, and homelessness charity, The Passage, to run two workshops on “Modern Slavery and Homelessness” next month. We aim to enable members of the Jewish community who volunteer on the ‘frontline’ – in soup kitchens, homeless shelters or asylum drop-in centres – to spot the warning signs of modern slavery and refer potential victims to specialist support organisations.
We take our name from Monsieur René Cassin, the French-Jewish co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cassin’s colleague on the committee drafting the Declaration was Eleanor Roosevelt. She famously said “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
So, today, on Anti-Slavery Day we are focussing on those small, often unnoticed, places, close to home, where human rights begin – and where we have a chance to make a real difference.