More action urged on trafficking and forced labour

By staff writers
August 8, 2013

Communities, churches, statutory authorities, survivor groups, police and NGOs need to work together better to tackle modern day slavery in Scotland and across the UK.

That was the message coming out of a conversation asking 'Does Slavery Exist in Scotland Today?' at Just Festival in Edinburgh on Wednesday 8 August.

Human trafficking, exploitation of migrant labour, forced prostitution, child exploitation, selling of organs, organised sexual abuse and domestic servitude are only a few examples of modern human enslavement, and it has been a growing problem, participants in the discussion at St John's Episcopal Church heard.

The speakers were Detective Chief Supt Gillian Imery from the Scottish Police Divisional Crime and Public Protection unit, Jeremy Alford of the Christian NGO Hope for Justice, and chair Sheriff Rita E.A. Rae QC.

The important work of Migrant Help and Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) in Scotland was also cited and acknowledged.

DCS Imery said that the priority for police work in the area was targeting those who perpetuate and benefit from modern forms of slavery, while "keeping people safe".

The low level of prosecutions was a symptom of the complexity of the issues, the deviousness of criminal gangs involved, the difficulty in piecing together information, and the fear experienced by victims caught in the web of exploitation, the panel agreed.

It is vital, all the contributors said, that those who are being exploited are not punished for their enslavement, which may involve drugs, illegal migration, forced sex work and other activities that would often carry sanction.

Public awareness and engagement, as well as the training of police and others in public life to understand, respond to and act on trafficking and related enslavement practices was "vital" said Jeremy Alford.

Only six people in three cases have been prosecuted in Scotland recently, which Imery described as "puny" in relation to the overall situation. In England it is fourteen, which Alford described as "clearly inadequate". There is also an issue about punishment and deterrence.

One important initiative was to make employers and hoteliers aware of the fact that they may be unwittingly colluding with trafficking and forced labour through intermediary agencies.

"The number of people who have come to this discussion shows how many are interested in this tragic but important subject," concluded Sheriff Rae.

"As a nation we are growing in awareness, and action is being taken," she said.

Just Festival, also known simply as Just, runs from 2-26 August 2013. It is based at St John's Church (Princes Street and Lothian Road) and some 27 other venues, and combines artistic and performance style events with conversations, talks, films exhibits and other ways of exploring how to live together creatively in a mixed-belief society.

* More details of this conversation here:

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