The University of Hull is in a unique position to consider the effects of climate change as a driver of modern slavery, having two institutes dedicated to the study of these distinct but interconnected topics. On 11 October 2021 the Wilberforce Institute hosted a virtual conference to formulate an holistic approach to understanding this nexus. The event was supported by Anti-Slavery International and co-organised by Chris O’Connell of Dublin City University. Professor Trevor Burnard, the Wilberforce Institute’s director, welcomed the conference as ‘the start of several conversations about climate change and modern slavery’. Hull’s Energy and Environment Institute, a world-leader in researching sustainable solutions to climate change, was also represented at the event by its director, Dan Parsons. Professor Parsons noted how the UK in particular has a ‘moral responsibility to act’, given that as a country it has the fourth largest total historical cumulative CO2 emissions, and that much of the nation’s wealth has been built on a combination of slavery and high-emitting industrial practices.
Throughout the day, academics, practitioners and people with lived experiences of environmental change and slavery came together to share their research, practical solutions, and hopes for the future. Key-note speaker, the Bolivian Indigenous rights leader Wilma Mendoza Miro, described how various exploitative and ecologically damaging practices are encroaching on Indigenous lands. She concluded that a new approach to policy-making is urgently needed – one which puts human life, not wealth-creation, at the centre of decision-making.
Jasmine O’Connor OBE, the CEO of Anti-Slavery International, described how her organisation recognises the potential of climate change ‘to drive slavery on an unimaginable scale’. Anti-Slavery International is pushing for a just and fair transition to a carbon neutral world, which puts decent jobs at the heart of the transition.
Other participants described various exploitative labour contexts around the world, from highly polluting brick kilns in South Asia, to fishing off the coast of Ghana, to deforestation in Brazil. The theme of climate-induced migration and its risks came up numerous times. While slavery is often considered a problem of the past, and climate change a threat in the future, both issues are converging in the present day to create an ecological and human disaster.
The conference concluded with participants signing up to a letter directed at the President Delegate of the COP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow, highlighting the relationship between contemporary slavery, environmental destruction and climate change, and calling for a just transition.
The full report of the conference, including summaries of all the presentations and further discussion of the issues at stake, is now available as a free PDF here
The Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, based at the Wilberforce Institute, has teamed up with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) for Humberside and local award-winning production company My Pockets to produce an innovative animation and resource pack for parents, teachers and carers to educate 10–12 year-olds on the dangers of child criminal and sexual exploitation.
The OPCC fund and oversee a local campaign called Not In Our Community that aims to raise awareness of child exploitation, both criminal and sexual. In addition to successful social media campaigns, they also produce resources and stories based on real life events that are used throughout educational and professional settings to raise awareness that helps protect young people.
My Pockets has vast experience in making innovative and heartfelt films, music, digital campaigns, and social art projects. In 2008 the company was invited to Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister in recognition of their work inspiring young people.
‘Anywhere Kids’ uses aspects of real stories from real victims in our area to reveal how young people are groomed, coerced, and trapped into exploitation such as drug dealing, forced criminality and sexual exploitation. The film seeks to open a dialogue with younger children about some of the dangers they may face online or in person and how they might protect themselves from being targeted by exploiters and organised criminal gangs.
The film is narrated by the female character called Aiesha, a young person who lives in our area, and her story is very real. Aiesha wanted to tell her story in a way that would help other children stay safe from sexual exploitation and abuse. From beginning to end this brave and inspirational young lady has been a constant motivation for all who have worked on the film. We are absolutely sure that when other young people hear her story, they will not only be able to relate to Aiesha but they will feel more confident and empowered to stay safe or ask for help.
The resource pack will help children explore elements of the film by using specially designed question and activity cards that promote critical thinking, group discussions, debate, and even creative activities such as drawing and painting. The resource pack also contains useful information for teachers, parents, and carers such as the definitions of child criminal and sexual exploitation, signs to spot, support available and specific advice on how to work with children who make disclosures or have concerns. The hope is that this resource will empower teachers to be confident in facilitating conversations with their pupils, give children the confidence to speak up, and help parents to understand the risks of this destructive crime.
As coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership I recognise that ‘finding new ways of reaching young people in Humberside is a top priority for us and our partners. Seeing first-hand the devastating effects this despicable type of crime has on young people and their families we are determined to bring partners together to take the fight straight to the criminals and organised criminal gangs who are relentless in finding new ways to exploit and harm our young people for their own gain.
‘These criminals destroy our children’s lives for profit, they tear families apart and show little regard for the lasting damage they often do. As this issue becomes increasingly complex, we must work hard to find more suitable and lasting solutions by which to safeguard our young people. This must always begin with education and empowerment. By giving young people the knowledge and confidence to push back against those who would take advantage of them we are building the foundations of more resilient communities that drive out CCE [Child Criminal Exploitation] and say no to all forms of slavery.
With input from colleagues at the Wilberforce Institute the resource pack will act as a template for discussing other difficult subjects with young adults and children in the future.
From the early stages of the pandemic, we have seen the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on minority and marginalised groups. This disparity continues to disadvantage those living in refugee camps across the world. While Covid-19 mortality rates in refugee camps have not been as devastating as was initially predicted, the impacts of the pandemic for displaced people are both broad ranging and ongoing. In the case of young refugees, we are seeing a particular set of adverse consequences which extend beyond physical health.
In my research I’m speaking with NGOs working within refugee camps on the Greek islands, and with people living in the camps who are seeking asylum. Time and time again, when I asked about the safety issues which young people in these camps are facing, Covid-19 came up. Interviewees spoke about the increased, unmonitored abuse and exploitation of young people as a result of Covid-19. One young man referred to this as the ‘hidden pandemic’ in refugee camps. A little more exploration revealed that this is unfortunately very much a trend across camps globally. While every camp presents distinct problems, trends such as this are appearing across the world.
Lockdowns, income loss, restriction of services and confinement to insecure environments are increasing the existing threats to the safety and well-being of young refugees. They are facing higher levels of mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, abusive smuggling, social exclusion and separation from caregivers. In a refugee camp setting, where the stresses of daily life are already severe and child protection services are limited or non-existent, these increased safety risks are felt all the more intensely. While interconnected, these issues can be grouped into three dimensions: provision of services, poverty and xenophobia.
Services which young people in camps relied upon to alleviate the associated problems of encampment are slowed, or unable to function. One example of this is the closure of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) providing education services. Schools in refugee camps provide an informal safeguarding role – one which is rarely filled in any formal capacity. NGO representatives have described to me how getting to know young people and seeing them on a regular basis allowed their teachers to spot indicators that a young person may be experiencing some form of abuse, and to act accordingly. Remote learning is simply not accessible financially to the majority of these young people. It requires a mobile device, mobile data, and very often a long journey on foot to purchase the mobile data, not to mention the risk of exploitation or abuse faced while making this journey to the nearest town. In any case, it is the in-person contact which most effectively alerts teachers or support staff to a safeguarding issue.
Many other support structures are now closed too, including ‘safe spaces’ in camps. In Vial refugee camp on the island of Chios, the ‘safe space’ for women and young people has now been closed for ten months, making it harder for children to report child protection issues and receive the necessary support and care. Closures of support structures such as these are linked by NGOs and refugees themselves to the increasing rates of neglect, abuse, gender-based violence and child marriages occurring in camps.
Shifts in the services processing asylum claims are also having a tangible impact on the overcrowding and poor monitoring of camp residents. United Nations agencies suspended resettlement procedures at the beginning of the pandemic. In many countries, border closures have left displaced people stranded, placing children and their families at risk of further harm and potentially separating families for longer stretches. In the United States, people seeking asylum, including children, have been turned away or deported to their countries of origin at the United States–Mexico border as part of the response to Covid-19. This indefinite prolongation of encampment also further increases the poverty of those living in camps worldwide.
While the pandemic has not only increased the impacts of poverty on displaced people in camps, it has also altered and reduced the means available to refugees to combat these poverty increases. Children and young people are no exception to this change. Families and caregivers of refugee children are inherently more vulnerable to job loss or economic downturns. With loss of access to support services (which have been forced to withdraw or reduce their support due to social distancing measures or lack of funding), comes a greater intensity of need. This increased need for food, clothing, shelter, and income must be accommodated somehow. And with the closure of ‘safer’ channels to do so, there is an increased likelihood of children accessing what they or their family need through means which exploit them. More children are now working to provide income for their families, engaging in coercive or emotional relationships, exploitative or abusive smuggling, or sexual exploitation.
Very much interwoven with these issues is the circulation of misinformation on the spread of Covid-19. Stigma, xenophobia and discrimination towards displaced children and their families are being exacerbated worldwide. In Lebanon, multiple municipalities have introduced restrictions on Syrian refugees to stem the spread of the virus. However these do not apply to Lebanese nationals. Similarly, displaced people on the Greek islands are facing curfews, and even lockdowns that do not apply to Greek residents. In Italy, there have been incidents of police brutality towards young refugees simply for leaving their camp. With these trends a differentiation is made between the rights of nationals compared to those of refugees. They also underscore the overlap between health inequality or the commodification of health, and the enjoyment of basic human rights to safety and protection, a relationship which Covid-19 has highlighted all too clearly.
While it is important not to homogenise the experiences of minority groups, or to associate the personal identities of these people with only the labels of ‘refugee’ or ‘child’, it remains important to demonstrate that they are facing distinct challenges. These challenges need to be tackled with their particular circumstances in mind. The health implications of displacement, particularly in a pandemic, are of course vital to appreciate. However the ‘hidden pandemic’ of unmonitored and unprevented abuse presents an equally vital child health crisis which continues to be overlooked.
As we begin our second year, and prepare to dive into the primary sources for our research, we take a step back together to consider the ethical issues raised by our research on child migration and exploitation.
My research involves interviewing adults who were evacuated to England following volcanic eruptions on Montserrat in the 1990s. These former child evacuees may have faced deeply traumatic experiences, including the destruction of their homes and communities and the deaths of people close to them. Moreover, relocation itself can be a traumatic process, so the semi-structured interviews that I plan to undertake may raise very sensitive issues, which can lead to re-traumatisation.
With this in mind, I wanted to equip myself with the tools to support my participants in case the interview process raised difficult memories. I did this in two ways.
Firstly, I undertook training from ECPAT UK on interviewing child migrants. Although my participants are no longer children, the training focused on conducting interviews with refugees and asylum-seekers and covering traumatic subject-matter, so contained useful pointers on how to prepare the interview space, address power imbalances between the interviewer and participant, and generally make the interviewee feel at ease. It introduced the Cognitive Interview Method, which allows the interviewee to hold images in their mind for long enough to recount a full and accurate history to the interviewer, while avoiding re-traumatisation. The training is available for free online.
My second strategy for supporting my participants was to produce a list of mental health support services, most of which are free to access. The NHS website contains a list of all the helplines and support services available. I chose the ones likely to be of most relevance to my participants and attached it to my Informed Consent Form.
Of course, interviewees have the right to withdraw from the study at any time and their experiences will be pseudonymised to avoid them being identified from my research. While I cannot exclude all possibility that my participants may find the interview process difficult, these methods should lessen that risk to an acceptable level.
My research involves accessing archive materials relating to the welfare of children sent from Britain to live in Canada on Vancouver Island, and Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools on the same island between 1920 and 1960.
Using child welfare records as ‘historical’ sources, particularly when they relate to living persons, raises significant data protection concerns. As a result there are legal restrictions under which such records are held, and, access granted. In addition, the use of pseudonyms and removal of all identifying details will ensure that these individuals remain anonymous and their formative experiences confidential.
Historically, research concerning Indigenous peoples has often hurt more than it has helped Indigenous communities. Consequently, it is important to reflect upon the positioning of the research and the researcher. As a non-Indigenous person, who did not grow up in Canada, it is crucial that I consider this ‘outsider’ perspective. The Canadian Tri-Council Policy on ‘Research Involving the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples’ is an important guide. In addition, there are numerous useful resources created by Indigenous groups, scholars and activists that can help inform more ethically sound practices. This ‘Indigenous Perspectives Guide’, produced for educational purposes is a good starting point for those unfamiliar with Indigenous history.
Western academics, and perhaps anthropologists in particular, continue to reckon with the racist, colonial elements of their heritage: the violence committed in the name of research; the enduring relevance of racism; and the ‘scientific racism’ that was extremely prominent in the context of this study. Records of one of Vancouver Island’s residential schools suggest that children were underfed, given illegal and untested food supplements and denied dental treatment as the subjects of government malnutrition experiments. It is critical then, that this research engages with the origins and legacies of these practices and the philosophies that informed them, research that was not just unethical but inhumane.
My research topic concerns the forced emigration of British children to Australia during the mid-twentieth century. I am currently investigating how the education, heritage and museum sectors have preserved the memory of the child migrant experience, while focusing on how child migrants themselves have defined this narrative and the extent to which these migrations are viewed as being a part of British history.
Many British children who were raised on farm schools were subject to abuse and exploitation throughout their childhoods. They grew up in unfamiliar surroundings thousands of miles from home, and it wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that the British public became aware of the suffering that was inflicted upon former child migrants. While it is my duty as a researcher to offer these former child migrants a voice and to galvanise the reconciliation process, any research must be undertaken with caution.
During my research, I intend to offer former child migrants and those who have championed the child migrant cause the chance to be interviewed about their experiences. It is not my intention to rigorously investigate the experience of growing up in Australian farm schools, but instead to look at whether the voices of former child migrants have been fully listened to in the years that have followed and the challenges that lie ahead in ongoing justice campaigns. While I do not seek to create emotional discomfort, this subject matter can prove traumatic for interviewees.
Research protocols for interviews must be strictly adhered to. Interviewees must be provided with consent documentation which includes the right to withdraw participation, to have interviews paused or terminated altogether, and to understand how any data will be used. As the principal investigator, I need to complete a full risk assessment and obtain ethical approval before conducting interviews, as well as to carefully consider the questions I intend to ask. This will not necessarily guarantee the emotional wellbeing of research participants, but it will ensure that the emotional wellbeing of my participants is the top priority of my primary research.
As we move into the next stages of our research, we must continually reflect on the practical application of our ethical values, ensuring that the wellbeing of our subjects, whether our research addresses them directly or indirectly, always takes precedence.
The 20th November is Universal Children’s Day (also known as World Children’s Day), as this was the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of the Child and in 1989 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter the CRC). This November then marks the thirty-first anniversary of the recognition of children’s rights and offers an opportunity for researchers working on child exploitation in the Wilberforce Institute to take a moment to pause and reflect together upon the role of children’s rights within their research. PhD students James Baker, Saphia Fleury, Jasmine Holding Brown, Charlotte Russell and Dr Elizabeth A. Faulkner (Lecturer in Contemporary Slavery) all work in the area of ‘children on the move’, interrogating both historical and contemporary abuses of children’s rights in situations where they are forced for a range of reasons to leave their homes and cross national borders.
As identified by Price and Cohen (1991) the CRC guaranteed the child’s ‘individual personality’ rights and set the minimum rights which states should recognise for children. But though the CRC is often celebrated for its universal acceptance (with the USA being the only State that has failed to ratify), questions still arise around its provenance and representation. Notions of the child and childhood have been heavily influenced by Western discourses and a romanticised ideal of childhood. The perception that ‘West is best’ is perpetuated in the CRC which can be interpreted as a new imperialism brandished under the guise of ‘children’s rights’, serving as an effective tool to ‘beat’ the Global South, in addition to deflecting from the continued Western dominance within the field of children’s rights. There are other problems too – within this construct children are residential, fixed and inherently local. What then does all this mean for us as researchers investigating ‘children on the move’?
The research of Jasmine and James considers historical exploitation and abuse of children perpetrated in the twentieth century in the form of British and North American ‘child saving’ schemes and the British ‘assisted child migration schemes’ to Australia. Focusing on the early twentieth century prior to the drafting and adoption of the CRC, children were arguably invisible in the international legal system. Approximately 7000 children were taken from British (and some Maltese) orphanages and sent to work in Australia’s agricultural sector, living in farm schools thousands of miles from home, and many became victims of maltreatment, involving aspects of physical, verbal and sexual abuse. When such cases were reported to authorities by child migrants they were seldom believed, and even if they had been, children’s rights at the time were far less developed than they are today. In this way, justifications for such projects, which emerge from ideals of ‘saving children’ and of advancing British views through education, destruction of culture and populating colonies with ‘white British stock’, are interwoven into the legacy of children’s rights. It is striking how the welfare of children, or ‘children’s rights’ as we might now conceptualise them, can be tied so effectively to the ‘national interest’ in ways that ultimately harm children, assimilation through education being a particular case in point.
If we look at children taking refuge from persecution and the consequences of conflict, this has been a matter of international concern since Eglantyne Jebb (the founder of Save the Children), in 1920, declared that ‘the world’s children stand in urgent need of better protection’. Despite the fact that the treatment of children affected by armed conflict – the rights of refugee and asylum-seeking children – had been dealt with by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Additional Protocol of 1977, they were not separately recognised in an international instrument until the adoption of the CRC in 1989 through Article 22. The research of Charlotte and Saphia considers the contemporary movement of children, with the former focusing upon children within European refugee camps and the latter upon child migration in the context of climate and environmental change.
Charlotte’s research advocates for the amplification of children’s voices in line with the rights afforded under international law, with the aspiration of addressing the impasse between policy and practice regarding the enjoyment of rights afforded by the CRC. The voices of children provide a link between the contemporary and historical aspects of this research, as each of the doctoral research projects seeks to centralise children.
Saphia’s research catalogues the inadequacies of the international legal framework to address children who migrate, whether domestically or internationally as a consequence of climate change. In contrast to any other international human rights treaty, the CRC provision for the protection of refugee and asylum-seeking children remains largely absent from mechanisms designed to tackle the human impact of climate change and environmental degradation. (Pobjoy, 2017; Myers & Theytaz-Bergman, 2017). The recognition of the rights of migrant children in the two Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants has been lauded as the first intergovernmental agreement to recognise climate-related migration. However, the Compact (not legally binding) is far from flawless despite making a departure from the traditional international legal architecture that has been implemented to protect refugees. The protections afforded to environmentally displaced persons are not systematic and competing priorities in migrant protection may ultimately bury the issue of climate migration. There are also difficulties when we consider the rights of children that fall outside the traditional view of children as weak, passive and vulnerable in the context of contemporary migration, such as adolescents who have decided to migrate in search of economic opportunities, as this strikes at the heart of the international legal framework.
Today Dr Lorena Arocha summarises the outcome of her collaborative research project with The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Lorena Arocha, Meena Gopal, Bindhulakshmi Pattadath, and Roshni Chattopadhyay, ‘ “Ways of Seeing”—Policy paradigms and unfree labour in India’, Anti-Trafficking Review, 15 (2020)
In 2019, a collaborative project between the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Wilberforce Institute focused on exploring worker-driven initiatives to tackle exploitation in India. Many activists and organisations generously contributed to the project. In our recently published article, we trace the trajectory of different initiatives to address unfree labour and their impact on workers’ capacity to aspire to and exercise their rights in India. We attempt to understand the dimensions and effects of different ‘ways of seeing’ precarity and exploitation within the larger context of economic policies, social structures such as caste-based discrimination, gender-based violence, and state indifference.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit India, we tried to contact all contributing activists and organisations to find out how lockdown was affecting their work and impacting people already in precarious and exploitative work. Here we spotlight the work of two organisations that contributed to our project – Aajeevika Bureau and Sangram.
Aajeevika Bureau was set up in 2005 and works in the south Rajasthan-Gujarat migration corridor. It offers rural migrant workers not only direct services, support and protection, but also uses advocacy and research to push for legal reform and better policy implementation, building capacity among migrant workers, especially through its efforts to mobilise and organise workers into collectives. Since the beginning of lockdown, they have been recording and publicisingcases of stranded migrants, providing and distributing food supplies and other essentials, raising funds through variouscrowdfundinginitiatives, informing migrants and others what services are available, supporting existing structures among rural families to assist in containing the virus and warding against economic collapse, running a helpline, increasing solidarity and collaborating with intellectuals and other commentators on social media campaigns, videos and webinars and joining forces with other workers’ platforms. Aajeevika Bureau launched a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office to help transport migrants back home in security and dignity, given the chaotic results during the Shramik Special Train scheme.
Thanks to their efforts, we know how employers used the lockdown to defraud workers of their wages, how workers are running into debt to buy food or medicines or travel back to their home states and the discrimination they face when trying to obtain food rations or medical assistance, with fatal results. Aajeevika Bureau also mounts pressure against state government decisions which favour businesses over workers, as with the cancellation of trains in the southern state of Karnataka at the behest of construction businesses, trapping migrants in, or the order by the northern state government of Uttar Pradesh, imposing a 12-hour shift for workers in industrial units. On International Labour Day, Aajeevika Bureau launched a research report, ‘Unlocking the Urban’. In the report, they painstakingly remind us that, though documenting the effects of the pandemic is important, we should avoid short-sightedness and see the crisis as an opportunity for making visible long structural exclusions. Using the twin framings of political economy and citizenship rights, they show how the ‘sedentary bias’ of most public provision policies in India allows central and state governments to make circular migrants invisible.
Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha or Sangram is an organisation which was established in 1992 in Sangli, in the southern state of Maharashtra. It works through a series of collective empowerment groups for socially and economically stigmatised communities, like sex workers and transgender groups. It is a women-led, rights-based network with a firm recognition of the structural inequalities at the heart of what these groups experience, including gender-based violence and discrimination. Sangram emerged at the time of another pandemic, that of HIV/AIDS, and are thus well versed in mobilising these collectives to address public health emergencies.
Sex workers and transgender groups have been gravely affected by the lockdown, not only because they have lost their source of income and might become homeless as a result, but their choices are often stark, when return to home states might mean facing violence and ostracism. And yet they were among the first to be aware about the risks posed by the virus and to implement measures to stall its spread as early as February 2020. Unable to access any social welfare scheme or any of the relief assistance provided by the government, they have been left to fend for themselves. Without non-governmental organisations and groups like Sangram, who have been raising funds and distributing food rations and medicines, this collective would have been completely isolated. Sangram is part of other sex workers’ collectives who are mobilising for advocacy purposes and organising webinars to voice in their own words the experiences of lockdown. Without this support, and in the face of campaigns that identify these groups as spreading the virus, isolation, anxiety over the future and hunger are leading to debt and suicide.
As indicated in our article, our pilot research suggests that ‘ways of seeing’ workers and their conditions matter. These ‘ways of seeing’ have distinct results for workers. Never have these been more stark than since the pandemic hit, as demonstrated by what happened to the millions of invisibilised migrant workers in India and reflected in the labour law changes the current government is staunchly pursuing. Paying attention to ‘ways of seeing’ is crucial, as these lead to different dispositions and strategies in challenging and re-imagining workers’ positions and futures.
Andrew Smith, Coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, introduces the first Modern Slavery strategy for this region
To coincide with Anti-Slavery Day, the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership has launched the first Modern Slavery Strategy for the Humber region. This progressive move sets the tone for partnership action over the next three years in combatting this despicable crime.
Modern slavery is a devastating crime, often hidden in plain sight. Exploiters profit from the misery of others by forcing them to work for little or no pay, restricting movement, withholding passports, bank cards and ID documents. Threats, control, and coercion are a common theme in modern slavery, playing on the disadvantage or desperation of others to elicit profit and gain. Trafficking for labour exploitation or sexual exploitation is a common theme across the United Kingdom and we are aware that the exploitation of children by organised crime groups across county lines is on the rise.
Spanning all four local authority areas in our region, this new, overarching strategy brings together statutory and non-statutory partners including law enforcement, academics and health and third sector professionals to give a focused and targeted approach to modern slavery and human trafficking.
Led by partnership coordinator Andrew Smith, whose position is funded by the Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner, a period of consultation helped shape the six robust strategic priorities that spearhead this strategy and speak firmly to would-be exploiters that the Humber region will not tolerate this crime.
Partnership coordinator Andrew Smith said:
‘Protecting vulnerable people, victims and survivors is at the heart of this new strategic plan. Working together in true partnership across all sectors will see us build more resilient communities that are able to deflect and dismiss those looking to exploit them.
Collaboration and coordination are recognised as the most effective way of tackling modern slavery in our communities. Creating a strong partnership approach in Humberside, where different members can bring their skills and strengths to the fight, means we are in a better position than ever before to make lasting change.
The commitment by Police and Crime Commissioner Keith Hunter to fund the
partnership coordinator role and support the creation of our dedicated Operation Wilberforce
police team means that our anti-slavery efforts are now firmly part of daily business.
Using academic research to inform practice is a vital component of this fight, and together with our colleagues at the Wilberforce Institute we aim to integrate the learning from research into our response.’
Dr Alicia Kidd, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Wilberforce Institute and Vice Chair of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership said:
‘The Humber Modern Slavery Partnership was established in 2015 and it’s fantastic to see the progress made in those years. This new strategy will be instrumental in ensuring we move forward in providing the most effective, comprehensive approach to modern slavery in our region.’
Police and Crime Commissioner Keith Hunter said:
‘Modern slavery preys on the most vulnerable members of our community. In the Humber area, police and wider partners including the Modern Slavery Partnership are committed to tackling this form of exploitation by collectively raising awareness of modern slavery, encouraging the community to report concerns, supporting victims and those vulnerable to exploitation, and bringing those responsible to justice.’
DCI Chris Calvert, Force strategic lead for Modern Slavery, Operation Wilberforce, said:
‘Although you may not see it, modern slavery exists in our communities and sadly it often goes unnoticed. Vulnerable people in our society are being exploited by organised criminal gangs for their own benefit.
Vulnerable people remain Humberside’s main priority, which is why a dedicated taskforce specialising in modern day slavery and human trafficking offences has been established.
Operation Wilberforce’s priorities are to protect the victims of modern slavery and bring the offenders to justice.
Working with the partnership is crucial to achieving our aims, raising awareness and gathering intelligence, bringing the skills and services of all our partnership agencies to protect our most vulnerable.’
To report a suspicion or seek advice, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or
Historians of slavery are very aware that enslavement in the past took a number of forms. One of the more unexpected of these for us today is voluntary enslavement, which presents us with something of a conundrum. We imagine slavery as the most extreme form of legal coercion, and so find it difficult to imagine anyone would enter of their own choice. Yet agreeing to enslavement in return for the means to survive was a well-known practice across many societies in which slavery was accepted in law. Where agreements survive, we can see that there were some differences between voluntary enslavement and its more coercive chattel form, and the idea of contract itself is often cited as a way to distinguish between the two types. Choosing to enter slavery voluntarily might mean that the conditions in which you served were more favourable, and your treatment was better. You may also have signed up for the option to exit unilaterally, that is, without the need for permission from your master. This was often the case with defaulting debtors and usually required payment of the appropriate redemption cost: your outstanding debt; or the provision of a substitute slave. But there was no guarantee of freedom, and during the period of your slavery, however long that might be, you were a chattel slave, and so were any children born to you during your enslavement.
There are examples in which people appear to have used voluntary enslavement strategically (when survival was not directly threatened), while at some periods and in some places such enslavement was illegal. What is clear is that societies recognised from an early point in time that voluntary slavery presented opportunities for exploitation, and tried to limit them: the decision of a Hebrew slave to remain in slavery in perpetuity in Exodus 21: 6 required him to make a declaration of love for his master before a judge and have his ear pierced as a sign of his condition. It was important to demonstrate as far as possible that those who chose to enter slavery voluntarily were doing so willingly and provide a means whereby the community and the enslaved had evidence of this change in status. As a result, voluntary enslavement had to be a public event, and could sometimes involve a symbolic act, undertaken to signal the changed status of the participant.
In this blog I introduce two medieval ceremonies of enslavement, one in England and the other in Scotland, that mirror the elements in this biblical example. As in biblical law, such events are described through a masculine lens, because women were rarely free to act independently. The process in England is relatively well-known. In the legal code known as the Leges Henrici Primi – the Laws of Henry I – the process of becoming enslaved by choice is clearly laid out. The Leges insisted that any voluntary enslavement had to be undertaken in a court, which in medieval England meant either the hallmoot, hundred or village court, depending on the ‘jurisdictional competence’ of the would-be master in relation to that court. Equally important was the public nature of the act: the declaration had to be made before witnesses. In addition, a toll was to be paid as physical evidence of the event, to ensure that the subject did not attempt to deny the enslavement later. Finally, the change in status required a symbolic ceremony in which the individual concerned was to ‘take up a sickle or a goad or the arms of slavery of this kind, and shall place his hands and head in the hands of his lord’. (See L.J. Downer, ed., Leges Henrici Primi (Oxford, 1972), 78: 2 and 78: 2c.) In giving his head to his lord, historians believe the enslaved symbolised handing over his mind and his will to the control of his master. But that was not all. Those men who entered slavery voluntarily committed all children born to their wives after their declaration to a life of perpetual enslavement too.
In medieval Scotland, as in England, the decision to enter enslavement voluntarily was inscribed in law, and in Scotland this action also had to be done in a public court. But the early fourteenth century Scottish law code known as the Quoniam Attachiamentaprescribed a slightly different ceremony: the symbolic tugging of the subject’s forelock as evidence of voluntary subjection. The Latin phrase in question – ‘per crines anterioires capitis sui’- literally translates as ‘through the hair at the front of his head’, but this is usually thought to have referred to a tugging of the forelock. The law also allowed for the master to recover anyone who had enslaved themselves voluntarily ‘per nasum suum’, meaning ‘through his nose’; this presumably referred to the use of a nose ring. The law was clear about the reason for this. ‘A free man is able to relinquish his liberty, if he chooses, in the king’s court and in some other courts. But once thus relinquished, it cannot be recovered in his lifetime’.
Unlike the English ceremony, this action of symbolic tugging has gained wider international currency, although current definitions of ‘tugging the forelock’ give no hint of its previous connection with enslavement. Described as ‘a traditional gesture of respect to the higher classes’, it is nevertheless associated with ‘obsequious or overly deferential behaviour’. This appears to have been the intention of the mid-nineteenth century American political caricaturist Henry R. Robinson, whose image of forelock tugging, still valuable as a measure of sycophancy today, satirised the ambitions of Major General Zachary Taylor as he sought election to the American Presidency in 1848. Taylor stood for the Whig Party, and though Robinson was a Whig supporter, he was clearly sceptical about Taylor’s Whig credentials. But what is perhaps more interesting in this context, is that Taylor was a slaveholder and plantation owner himself. As an echo of voluntary enslavement, the continuing relevance of forelock tugging today reveals surprising links between subordinating social practices in our present society and ancient forms of slavery.
This month we are delighted to welcome three new PhD students to the Wilberforce Institute. They are all part of the ‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Cluster, a strategic investment for the Wilberforce Institute and the University of Hull in this field.
The position we have taken with this PhD Cluster is that it is not evil people that create victims but systems. Criminal justice studies have historically been more concerned with the punishment of the offender, but our new students’ research sits with recent moves to re-centre attention critically on the relational shared experiences of victims/survivors and non-victims. Each of these individual projects therefore explores key questions that go beyond the individual person affected by these practices, examining instead the effects of systematic and rooted processes of exploitation, its relation with processes of victimhood and their intersection with questions of social justice and social rights.
The ‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Cluster examines contemporary forms of slavery from three different angles of critical victimology. The first project is led by Jennifer Nghishitende, who will be looking at what happens after people have experienced exploitation, how people make sense of these experiences and how they then move on with their lives, especially in the longer-term, with an emphasis on questions of dignity and rights.
‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Research Cluster
The third project, led by Mavuto Kambochola Banda, focuses on tea plantations in Malawi. Mavuto will examine the unintended consequences of policy measures which are put in place to tackle contemporary forms of slavery. Such interventions can adversely affect the lives of those they intend to assist.
Mavuto Kambochola Banda
‘Living with the Consequences of Slavery’ PhD Research Cluster
The ‘Living with the consequences of slavery’ Cluster will therefore look at these problematics from opposite directions: on the one hand, from the perspective of those who have experienced exploitation and its relation with victimisation processes in contemporary forms of slavery; and, on the other, from the perspective of those who have been disadvantaged as a result of humanitarian anti-slavery measures. This, we believe, offers an exceptional opportunity to gain a more comprehensive picture of the complexity of practices and processes that drive exploitation experiences as well as an in-depth understanding of the impact of these experiences in the long term.
The theme of critical victimology, which marks a new direction for the Wilberforce Institute, is composed of two strands. Alongside our investment in the PhD scholarships we are introducing an MA programme in Contemporary Slavery Studies and Critical Victimology, due to start in February 2021. The MA offers our new PhD students a platform and a community with whom to share their research. We are hoping they will inspire others to engage in this critical area of study.
We have high expectations for our new PhD students, and are looking forward to guiding and supporting them through their studies. They will be based at the Wilberforce Institute when they are not away on research, working with a team of supervisors across various disciplines, in Human Geography, Social Sciences, Criminology and Law. We are excited by the prospect of seeing their research projects develop as they grow as scholars.
Wilberforce Institute Webinar, Tuesday 22 September 2020
On Tuesday 22 September between 16:00 and 18:00 BST, Cristina Talens, Head of Business Risk Assessment Services in the Wilberforce Institute, will be leading a major discussion on the nature of freedom today: ‘What is Freedom to You?’
This is not a discussion between academics. Instead it involves individuals who work at the forefront of identifying exploitative practices on the ground today – you will find their details below. Cristina Talens has assembled a stellar panel of experts from a diverse range of backgrounds in the areas of ethical trade and supply chains. Our speakers will be talking about what freedom means to them, and about the one thing they believe would have the greatest impact in ensuring that people can be free from exploitation. If you would like to join us, please click on the link at the bottom of the page.
Cristina Talens – Head of Business Risk Assessment Service at the Wilberforce Institute. Cristina Talens has more than 20 years’ experience in ethical trading, sustainability and supply chains. She has worked with migrant workers on modern slavery issues in the UK, France and Italy. In 2000, she joined the United Nations (UN) Global Programme Against Trafficking and Smuggling of Human Beings, and today she regularly conducts social audit assignments and risk assessments on behalf of major UK supermarkets.
Alfonso Herias Garcia – an Ethics and Human Rights specialist currently heading the Ethics team at G´s Fresh, one of Europe’s leading fresh produce companies. He has over 10 years’ experience in the fields of social sustainability, and is responsible for the strategic direction and delivery of G´s Fresh Human Rights Programme, covering over 10, 000 direct workers in places such as the UK, Spain, Eastern Europe, Senegal, and the United States. Alfonso has been an active member of the Food Network for Ethical Trade and the Spanish Ethical Trade Forums. He holds a degree in Political Science and a Masters in International Relations.
Sam Ludlow Taylor– Ethical Trade Manager at the John Lewis Partnership with a focus on the Waitrose brand, a role she has held for 2 years. Sam began her career working as a merchandiser at Homebase and then joined Debenhams where she moved into ethical trade and human rights about 12 years ago. Sam also spent time working for a UK based clothing agent and a soft drinks brand, looking at Tier 1 factories, raw material and commodities sourcing.
Rosey Hurst – founded Impactt in 1997 to make what works for workers work for business. She founded Sedex and launched the Benefits for Business and Workers Programme which links improving productivity with a better deal for workers. She is passionate about re-humanising the workplace, serves on the Ecovadis Technical Committee and is a member of the Responsible Investment Advisory Council at BMO Global Asset Management.
David Camp – Founder and Chief Executive of allianceHR, a not for profit/profit with purpose consultancy. He delivers collaborative programmes to drive systemic human rights improvements in global supply chains. This includes Stronger Together, a multi-stakeholder collaborative initiative supporting organisations to tackle modern slavery; Fast Forward, a next generation supply chains labour standards audit and improvement programme; and the Responsible Recruitment Toolkit, a one-stop capacity-building online toolkit to support supply chains to embed responsible recruitment management systems. David is the Chief Executive of the Association of Labour Providers and received the 2018 Marsh Award for Outstanding Contribution to the fight against Modern Slavery.
Nick Kightley – Strategic Lead for Food, Farming and Fisheries at the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). His overseas working experience includes 13 years in the rural Southern Philippines supporting small farmers and their communities and setting up his own rural enterprise there. He worked for 12 years at Traidcraft Exchange as Asia Programme Manager, promoting fair trade businesses, and for 8 years with the Waste and Resources Action Programme, working with SMEs and community based environmental sustainability enterprises. In his ETI role, Nick is able to influence the way business is done and industry functions on a global scale.
Steve Gibbons – Co-founder of Ergon with over 25 years’ experience in labour and human rights issues. He has provided consultancy for the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Commission, London 2012, the ETI, the UK Department for International Development and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Steve has particular expertise in facilitating stakeholder dialogue and in devising and managing grievance and dispute resolution mechanisms in line with the UN Guiding Principles. He is an expert member of the Independent Complaints Mechanism of the sustainable investment company DEG, and FMO, the Dutch development bank. He is a UK-qualified lawyer, a regular conference speaker and the founder of the UK’s leading online training company for lawyers, CPDCast®.
Hannah Davis – more than 15 years’ experience managing international development programmes, with a focus on sustainable and ethical supply chains and the empowerment of smallholder farmers. She has worked with cocoa, coffee, sugar and nut producer organisations across sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America to support improvements in agricultural practice, product quality, market access, governance and women’s participation. Since 2018, Hannah has worked for UK charity the Lorna Young Foundation, developing and promoting its Farmers’ Voice Radio initiative. This brings together smallholder farmers, agricultural experts and supply chain partners to share their knowledge, experience and expertise.
Pins Brown – Head of Ethical and Sustainable Sourcing at The Body Shop. Her working life has involved both suits and muddy boots and has focussed on improving labour conditions in supply chains especially for the least powerful. This has seen her involved in a wide variety of ventures from Mali to Kazakhstan, from agriculture to oil and gas and ASOS to Oxfam, working with large and small businesses, NGOs, trade unions and international organisations. She has also served on advisory panels on UK prison labour and for the Better Cotton Initiative.