The slavery happening on our doorsteps is a collective problem
Back in September 2011 a police raid on a travellers’ site in Bedfordshire uncovered a story that left many of us perplexed. It was revealed that a well-organised operation to turn rough-sleepers into modern-day slaves had been taking place. At the time, and according to the Thames Reach charity, more than 20 eastern and central European immigrants had ran away from similar gangs and contacted them searching for help and shelter.
The Bedfordshire gang in particular seems to have run a profitable business. Once the homeless victims were picked up and promised jobs and good money, they were kidnapped – literally – and forced to live a life of servitude, isolated from the rest of the world, separated from their families and friends, thrown into crammed accommodations, and ordered to do hazardous and backbreaking jobs for the rest of their lives.
The fact that all this was going on for years under the gaze of Bedfordshire police is difficult to digest, but in all fairness blaming the police would be a very easy route in this case. Bedfordshire residents who hired the services of these men must have come across their enslaved workers repeatedly during this time, and yet, somehow they failed to make enough noise about it to attract the attention of the authorities. Fellow travellers who might have been aware of this situation also failed to come forward and denounce what was going on, although one can guess than fear may have stopped them from doing so.
The fact of the matter is that the failing was a collective one, and that it happened on our doorsteps. Usually when we discuss modern day forms of slavery we tend to look at the developing world for examples (Mauritania, the Philippines, or Haiti, to mention but a few) when slavery is obviously sometimes much closer to home.
As Thames Reach rightly noticed back in 2011 this is far from being an isolated case. Not long ago the BBC reported about similar gangsters who taking advantage of the elderly and the vulnerable, had been doing something similar to the Bedfordshire gang, but instead of keeping their victims in England, they were “exporting” them to other European countries like Sweden and Belgium, where they were being subjected to similar conditions.
In 2009 it was reported, also by the BBC, that young women from Eastern Europe were being tricked into coming to England, where they were then sold off in auctions at airport coffee shops upon their arrival. And, predictably, Britain is not alone; modern day slavery is a problem that affects every day more and more countries across the world.
Although the term “modern day slavery” tends to prevail, in reality there are other forms of unfree labour that perhaps don’t receive as much attention but that continue to plague both the developed and developing worlds. Among them we can find frequent cases of bonded labour, child labour used to produce clothes for several Western high street brands, and prison labour.
The Bedfordshire gang case has provided us with the inescapable proof, and truth, that some of the people we may come across in the streets of our cities and towns may be having a terrible experience that we can barely imagine.
What the case has also revealed is that just because slavery was abolished more than two centuries ago, it doesn’t mean it is something that’s confined to the history books. The new legislation passed in 2010 that allowed the government to take on these slave traffickers and owners should have been in place a long time ago. Bedfordshire police should have acted as soon as the first slave escaped from the camp, and those who hired the services of this gang should have paid attention to who the people laying down the cobbles on their driveways were.
Stopping instances like this from happening again is in our hands; it is our common and shared responsibility to ensure that human trafficking and slave ownership are abolished once and for all.Tagged in: Bedfordshire, caravan site, James John, Josie Connors, slavery
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