Human trafficking – the movement of people through violence, deception or coercion for the purpose of forced labour – is our era’s slave trade.
Last month the wickedness of this trade hit home locally in my Lincolnshire constituency when 3 men were arrested near Holbeach on suspicion of exploiting up to 60 East European migrant workers.
Every year tens of thousands of people are brought to Britain for the purpose of slavery, bonded labour and prostitution by well organised criminal gangs. Often the victims respond to employment advertisements in their home countries, but the promised jobs rarely materialise and passports and other identity documents are forcibly confiscated.
Many are subjected to violence, threats and coercion to work against their will; including controls on their freedom of movement, when and where they will work and what pay, if any, they will receive.
I came across a case recently of a Bulgarian told that he could get work as an IT specialist in the UK. Having paid fees for the job search, on his arrival in England there was no IT job, just work in a fish processing factory. Large deductions were made from his pay for accommodation, transport and food, leaving him almost penniless. Starting his shift early in the morning and finishing late at night, he didn’t see daylight for months. His passport was stolen, his family threatened.
Similar outrages occur daily across the country, yet the official response is inadequate. The UK’s only specialised human trafficking unit – which was given a fanfare launch in March last year and has secured a string of convictions against sex traffickers – will close in 2009 due to a lack of resources.
The size of the problem demands a response of matching scale and urgency. The United Nations estimates that trafficking is ‘one of the largest sources of income for organised crime’.
To act decisively against this vile trade and hunt down those who profit from it, we should redouble our efforts to secure our borders, crack down on immigration and ensure the release of enslaved migrants.
200 years ago, after a 20 year struggle against those that argued that slavery provided an essential source of labour, Tory MP William Wilberforce persuaded the House of Commons to abolish the slave trade. We must now show similar resolve – borne of an enduring belief in our shared humanity – to crack down on human trafficking.