A Positive Impact, Poetry and Slavery

W.H. Auden famously wrote once that ‘poetry makes nothing happen.’ I happen to disagree. Many dramatic or even gradual changes in our society throughout history have happened because of people. People who were filled with the conviction that something needed to change. And some of those individuals read poetry, or a novel, or watched a play.

If poetry has something to say about the injustice that tears at our social fabric, then perhaps it has the power to change it too?

Before slavery could be abolished in the British Empire in 1833, abolitionists like the politician William Wilberforce (1759-1833) needed to challenge the mindsets that permeated their generation. Before change of legislation could be brought through in Parliament, a change of heart needed to happen in the culture. The abolitionists worked tirelessly to convince the British public of the evils of the slave trade, and to encourage them to petition Parliament and join the anti-slave trade movement. One of the ways that abolitionists did this was through creativity. Hannah Moore (1745–1833) was a British playwright, abolitionist, and philanthropist, and a friend of William Wilberforce and other abolitionists in a group of evangelical Christians known as the Clapham Sect, which opposed slavery. She began writing and editing religious tracts—collections of ballads, moral stories, and readings. She composed “Slavery, a Poem” (1788) when William Wilberforce was campaigning for abolition in Parliament.

You can read the full poem here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51885/slavery but I would like to pick out a couple of key moments where More offers a compelling appeal to the dignity and worth of those oppressed by slavery, a scathing attack on the hypocrisy of 18th century British thinking and values, and heartrending images which remain relevant to the slave trade today.

More starts off by questioning:

“If Heaven has into being deigned to call 

Thy light, O Liberty! to shine on all; 

Bright intellectual Sun! why does thy ray 

To earth distribute only partial day?…

While Britain basks in thy full blaze of light, 

Why lies sad Africa quenched in total night?”

Moore exposes the hypocrisy of a Britain which rejoices in liberty and freedom, yet denies such rights to those it enslaves. The problem is not the universal reach of liberty, but rather those who keep liberty from Africans, whom they subject to slavery. She continually questions how the presence of reason, dignity and worth, found in the white man, is not equally recognised in the African:

“What! does the immortal principle within 

Change with the casual colour of a skin? 

Does matter govern spirit? or is mind 

Degraded by the form to which it’s joined? 

No: they have heads to think, and hearts to feel..”

Moore moves from intellectual reasoning regarding the shared nature and worth of all humankind to an emotional plea for readers to imagine the slaves being taken from their homes to be sold and sent away:

“See the dire victim torn from social life, 

See the sacred infant, hear the shrieking wife! 

She, wretch forlorn! is dragged by hostile hands, 

To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands: 

Transmitted miseries, and successive chains, 

The sole sad heritage her child obtains. 

Insulted Reason loathes the inverted trade — 

Loathes, as she views the human purchase made; 

The outraged Goddess, with abhorrent eyes, 

Sees Man the traffic, souls the merchandise!”

These words still ring true today. They call to mind the realities of the ever-growing slave trade; the goods that are trafficked are humans, and the traffickers who therefore become merchants of souls. Individuals are kidnapped from their home countries and taken to far off lands to work for ‘tyrants’, whether they be pimps or factory owners. Much like the original readers of this poem, we do not often witness individuals being stolen from homes and sold into slavery first-hand, and neither do we expect to. But through this poem we can imagine the trauma of those who are trafficked from other nations to be prostitutes on the streets of London. We can imagine those children who are kidnapped and forced into labour.

Today, poetry continues to ‘make things happen’. One of the charities which Treated Right supports called ‘Beyond the Streets’ runs a project which enables women caught in the sex trade to articulate and process some of their trauma. You can read some of their pieces here: http://www.gatheredvoices.com/entries/poems/.

Perhaps, like Hannah Moore, you too can use your creativity to raise awareness about trafficking. The following poem is my personal attempt to say something about modern day sex trafficking.

Lights

Lights, shining intermittently down the dark alley

Shining into hidden spaces, shadows escaping

Clinging onto their captives, who take care

Not to be seen, not to be heard

By critical eye and ear

 

Light, shining from headlamps of jet-black cars

Like the souls of those within, one might say

The captive and captor are alike and the same

But who’s to say?

One comes out on top, in more ways than one,

And this is not a pun, to be laughed at,

But rather to make you think, who’s on top?

And how did he get there, and more

Importantly, how did she?

 

But we don’t ask, we never do

We simply roll our eyes, or avert,

Or stare, or think, “Wow, she’s hot”

Or “Wow, she’s not”

So, we back away or take our place

Take the place of the men who came before

Sharing our prize, our captive, thinking we saw

Love in those eyes, when really all we saw was

A girl, looking for a dad who never came.

So, she is now passed around, without a sound,

At least in between, cause it’s a safe bet

Her cries will pierce the night, but no one

Will hear, will see that light

That cries out, I want to be seen

Can you see beyond these eyes?

That have been taught to lure, to lust,

But are silently crying out for a cure, just one person to trust

 

Written by Matt Lewis

 

An exploration of the Fashion Industry

An exploration of how to do fashion which is good for all…

I love ethical fashion. Often find me frequenting charity shops trying to source a good bargain. In fact, the other day a friend asked me if I was from a charity shop as it is so often my response if anyone likes my clothes to respond ‘Thanks! It’s from a charity shop!’ I seriously think I need to start expanding out my responses!

As a kid I went on a Primark boycott because I had heard about appalling conditions in sweat shops, but it was only recently that I really started looking into the human perspective of why ethical fashion is such a crucial movement.

To begin to understand the scope of the human impact of fashion I have a few facts:

It is so hard to put exact numbers on these situations as much of it is covered up. Slavery is illegal. Therefore, incidences are hidden, go unnoticed and are not recorded. Instead numbers must be more general figures but can still be helpful to gauge the patterns and significance of trafficking in fashion.

  • The EU has large numbers of clothes imported from countries with high prevelances of modern slavery. Cambodia, for example, was fourth largest supplier of clothing to the European Union between 2015 and 2017 yet is 9th on the list of countries with highest estimated prevalence of modern slavery. The EU therefore activity imports clothing from countries where modern slavery is not being effectively challenged. Whilst rates of modern day slavery may be lower in EU countries, we can certainly not count ourselves as on the moral high ground as we purchase goods facilitated by the trafficking trade.
  • Approximately 40 million people around the world are living in modern slavery and a report by the walk free foundation identified the fashion industry as the second biggest contributor to this situation

So, what do we do about it?

My gut reaction of an 8-year-old girl hearing about the atrocities and deciding to boycott one shop is probably not what I’d suggest has the best impact now. Consumers do indeed have a lot of power, but so often supply chains are mixed up and it is very rarely that there is only one primary, culpable retailer.

Particularly in the fashion industry where cotton growing often involved slaves (many of whom are children), slavery can be traced right through the production line and these lines often cross even between those brands that we would consider my ethical with those we may typically see as unjust. The price you pay in certain shops does not necessarily correlate directly to improved worker conditions and less trafficking impact.

Examples of slavery in the cotton industry for example, are clear in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan continues the practice of government-organized forced labour in the cotton fields, forcing its citizens including children as young as 10 to leave school and work long hours harvesting cotton. Uzbek parents who refuse face a fine equivalent to two weeks’ pay. In 2012 the state forced over 1 million of its citizens, including children, to harvest cotton in abusive conditions.

Many supply chains are therefore tainted, even if there is provision to prevent trafficking in the production of the clothing later, it can often be that a garment begins dependent upon the forced labour of millions.

Forced labour is still common in the factories too however, the alarming fact of which first alerted me and the horror of such as situation has continued to shock me ever since.

A particularly potent example of the horror of such situations is emphasised in the incident of a factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. In the event 134 people died when a factory collapsed. What is even more shocking is that inspection teams had discovered cracks in the structure of Rana Plaza on Tuesday. Shops and a bank branch on the lower floors immediately closed. But the owners of the garment factories on the upper floors ordered employees to work on Wednesday, despite the safety risks. The factory appears to have been producing garments for brands such as Mango and Primark.

The horrific disregard for the workers of the factory by the companies is disgusting. But this tragedy also highlights another key point about the governments response to worker conditions. Five months before, a fatal fire in Bangladesh lead to pledges from government officials and many global companies to tighten safety standards yet just 5 months later it appears that such promises were totally disregarded. If we are to see change in the fashion industry, we must not only campaign for policy change and increased regulation but must also hold officials and leaders accountable.

It almost seems impossible therefore to somehow find ethics admits the horrors in the fashion industry. However, there are things that we can do:

  • Use our power as consumers: I mentioned earlier that maybe boycotting single brands isn’t the way forward. But being aware of where we shop certainly is. If we can use our consumer power to change the fashion industry, then this will involve us assessing our shopping habits. Buying second hand clothing is a great start. But is also important to not only take money away from irresponsible brands but to actively encourage those which are more ethical. Trying to seek out and buy clothes from such brands has a major impact. This may involve buying fewer but better clothes (yes, my mum would contest that I am suggesting that as I am not great at it myself!) But maybe it is something we should strive towards. More information of high street ethical fashion can be found on the ‘Good shopping guide.’

In order to remind us of the power of our pockets, treated right have printed several stickers for bank cards. They have ‘True cost’ on them to remind us to think of what the true cost of the products we purchase is. Please take them, think about your power as a consumer and give some to friends as well.

  • Use our power as citizens: let’s demand that our government pays more attention to the issue of trafficking in the fashion industry. This can be through signing petitions or through speaking directly to advocates such as MPs. We must voice that this is an issue worth talking about.
  • Use our power in communities: trafficking is an issue worth talking about! Let’s make it something we tell our friends about too and get them involved. The more people who are involved the more we can make a change. Invite people to events, send them links, get them involved. There are so many resources to learn more about and to share with others. The ethical unicorn blog posts are brilliant and Treated Right is running a series of blog posts this term on how our decisions as consumers have far reaching effects.

We don’t have to live in a world in which the clothes we wear are a reflection on the injustices around us. Let’s take a stand and make a change.

Written by Rebekah (Boo) Hinton

Buying Sex

‘Seems like everybody’s got a price –
I wonder how they sleep at night,
When the sale comes first
And the truth comes second’
(‘Price Tag’, Jessie J)

It’s very late when I’m writing this: I’ve just got back from visiting some friends in central London, which isn’t particularly unusual. But perhaps less usual is that they work as prostitutes, so I’ve spent a few hours going around Westminster trying to catch a few moments to chat with them in between their clients.

This is as part of a project called Tamar, which does outreach to sex workers in London. Tamar offers various kinds of physical and practical support with things like medical appointments, legal advice, one-to-one English lessons, and providing help with alternative work/resettlement if women want to leave the sex industry but can’t. The part of the team I’m on does regular visits to brothels, massage parlours and flats where sex is bought and sold. It’s often quite a long and hard evening, going between the flats and hearing about some of the horrible abuse which the women suffer.

It’s natural to see only the parts of London that we want to – an amazing blend of cultures, galleries and exhibitions, vibrant colours and food markets. In the daytime, I work as a researcher in Parliament, which could not be a more outrageously ostentatious setting.

But a lot goes on beneath shiny surfaces. There are staggering amounts of homelessness, social isolation and debt. And Westminster is the number 1 hotspot for sex work in the whole of the UK. What’s more, an estimated *half* of the women selling sex in London have been trafficked into the industry.[1] Human trafficking involves recruiting or transporting people into a situation of exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion. It’s commonly perpetuated by huge criminal networks which operate across the globe, often targeting vulnerable women from lower income countries, and shipping them to fuel sex-on-demand in the West.

Tens of thousands of women in central London are being forced to have sex as slaves, right on the doorstep of Parliament. How do we even begin to think about that?

I’m certainly not an expert. Nevertheless, having seen a bit more of what the sex industry looks like, there are three common misconceptions I’d like to comment on briefly.

#1 Prostitution is a choice

I still remember watching Pretty Woman a few years ago, and thinking prostitution didn’t seem that bad. (If you haven’t seen the film, beautiful Julia Roberts captures the heart of a rich business man who hires her for sex, leading to an iconic Roy Orbison song, a weird sex scene on a piano and an excellent happily ever after.)

The reality of sex work is very different. As noted above, many of those working in brothels have been trafficked into the industry. But even in cases where trafficking hasn’t taken place, prostitution is usually the choice for those with the fewest choices left.

Government research reveals that homelessness, living in care, debt and substance abuse, are all common experiences prior to entering prostitution.[2] Many women are drawn into prostitution at a young age, often under 18 years old, through grooming, or family circumstances.[3] Indeed, many sex workers have experienced abuse as children, with Home Office data showing 45% report experience of sexual abuse and 85% physical abuse during their childhood. Numerous studies have also found between 50% and 95% of women in street prostitution are addicted to Class A drugs.

This doesn’t look like a landscape for much free choice. A minority of women can truthfully say they have chosen prostitution, but for the huge majority the experience is marked by a distinct lack of control.

And when considering the day-to-day reality for many prostitutes, the lack of autonomy becomes even more pronounced. Money for sex is rarely paid to the prostitute directly, and pimps typically pocket the profit. Many of those working as prostitutes do not have the language or terminology to articulate what has happened to them. Moreover, prostitutes are regularly raped and assaulted, asked to do horribly degrading acts and forced to take hard drugs along with the buyer. The 2016 parliamentary report on prostitution refers to “near pandemic levels of violence experienced by women in prostitution”, and the NPCC’s National Policing Sex Work Guidance notes that “the murder of sex workers continues to take place at an alarming rate”.

There is such depth of suffering here that it feels overwhelming to me – and I don’t have to live this reality, day in and day out.

When I was out visiting massage parlours a couple of months ago, the man on the front desk looked me up and down slowly. ‘I like her body’, he said to my friend. ‘What’s she called? Bring her back soon.’

It felt horrible to be looked at like that, even with the power to leave. How different to be told: ‘I like her body. What’s she called? Bring her in for me’ and watch a £20 note handed over in return. I had the choice to walk away but so many women do not.

#2 Pornography is innocent

What I have seen of sex trafficking also directly informs the way I think about the porn industry.

The two are tightly entwined in various ways: sex trafficking victims are often forced to watch porn to ‘break them in’ shortly after abduction. Those working as prostitutes are routinely abused when forced to act out violent porn scenes which viewers have watched at home. Addiction to pornography also makes a viewer far more likely to purchase sex, in turn driving up the demand for human trafficking to recruit women.

But perhaps the most uncomfortable truth is that much of internet porn is taken of sex trafficking victims, and it is very hard to tell what is consensual. Some research indicates that almost half of sex trafficking victims had pornography made of them while they were being held as slaves.[4]  One female survivor, whose captor slept on top of her at night so she wouldn’t escape, and listened to her phone calls with a gun pointed at her head, was forced to appear in a video that was included in the Sinclair Intimacy Institute’s list of “sex positive productions”![5] “Every time someone watches that film,” she said, “they are watching me being raped.”

Moreover, any pornography involving underage actors – which is one of the most popular and fastest growing types of porn – is actually classed as modern slavery.[6]

So watching porn actively funds a global sex industry that enslaves and trafficks victims across the planet. In all honesty, I regard porn as a form of prostitution, with a thin glass layer between the sex buyer and the seller.

And I don’t say that with self-righteousness or judgement, because there are plenty of areas in my own life where I put myself first and constantly need to re-evaluate my choices. But there is such a cost to vulnerable women and children in the sex industry that I think porn needs to be talked about for what it is.

#3 There’s nothing I can do about it

This is perhaps the most debilitating misconception of all. The moment we consider ourselves powerless, we shrug off our responsibility to act. Just briefly, here are three ways that you can respond to injustice in the sex industry:

  • Get involved with a charity delivering frontline help, like Tamar. You might consider volunteering your time (if you are in London, have a look at https://watw.org.uk/. http://www.doorofhope.org.uk, /http://www.tamarwestminster.org). Other charities often ask for volunteer support with general skills or administration (e.g. https://www.unseenuk.org/support-us/volunteers) Or perhaps you could partner with a charity financially instead – that’s what Treated Right does in funding three charities to respond to human trafficking through prevention, intervention and victim care. One of our charities is Beyond the Streets, which has a particular focus on helping sex workers who feel trapped in the industry.
  • Learn how to identify the signs of sex trafficking, and be alert when you’re in a place you might encounter it. (https://hopeforjustice.org/spot-the-signs/#sexual-exploitation) If you are training to be a GP, lawyer, social services worker or police man/woman, then your profession puts you in a really important position to identify victims and act to intervene. But the rest of us have every likelihood of passing a trafficking victim in an airport, in a hotel, or on a street corner. You can report any suspicions to a first responder by calling the Modern Slavery Helpline (08000 121 700) who can pass them onto the National Referral Mechanism in turn.
  • Get informed and involved politically. The key bits of legislation at the moment are the independent review of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act and Lord McColl’s Victim Support Bill. Stay in the loop with what’s happening in Parliament so that you can write to your MP to urge them to attend key debates and publicise response work local to your constituency, or ask them to write to the Home Secretary on your behalf to lobby for specific measures.

If you’ve never really thought about prostitution before, I hope this has offered a tiny window into what goes on – though it runs a lot deeper and uglier than the things I’ve touched on here. (Do feel free to contact me if you want to talk more, or think about how you might get involved.)

There’s a lot about London that I love, but I don’t view it in quite the same way as I used to. Now the many ‘massage parlour’ signs stand out to me where I never noticed them before. I walk through areas where I know the women who work in flats to pay off debts they can’t control, and I feel so heavy with sadness.

This is a city of amazing beauty and diversity, but it’s also one where poverty turns sex into a resource to be bought off those who are denied basic choice and their fundamental human rights. So many women are not free to be the beautiful, glorious, creative and strong people that they are.

Yes, sex sells. But the sale comes first and the truth comes second.

Written by Katherine Ladd

[1] Tamar: Hidden Voices of London, 4 October 2018, All Souls Curch

[2] Shifting the Burden Inquiry to assess the operation of the current legal settlement on prostitution in England and Wales

[3] Paying the Price: a consultation paper on prostitution, Home Office https://prostitution.procon.org/sourcefiles/paying_the_price.pdf

[4] Thorn, “A Report On The Use Of Technology To Recruit, Groom, And Sell Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Victim (2015). Retrieved From Https://Www.Wearethorn.Org/Wp-Content/Uploads/2015/02/Survivor_Survey_r5.Pdf

[5]  Catharine A. MacKinnon, Are Women Human? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007

[6] http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/crime-threats/human-trafficking/types-of-human-trafficking

Are Children’s tears being mixed with cocoa in chocolates?

Countries such as Ivory Coast and Ghana are major exporters of cocoa beans, a bean responsible for the great taste of our chocolate bars. Nevertheless, the beauty of these chocolate bars masks a long and dishonourable production process. Let us zoom in to an excruciating situation in the Ivory Coast explained in “The Black Book on Corporations” written by German journalists Klaus Werner and Hand Weiss, published in 2001. Children from poor families in neighbouring countries are recruited under false pretences. An alleged cocoa farmer training program should provide these children with valuable skills needed to become a real farmer. After a few years, they would return to their families, but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the children are being forced to work on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast without salary and without the promised farmers training program. With bare hands these children are forced to pick cocoa pods, extract beans using machetes and carry heavy bags. If they complain or flee, they are beaten or even murdered (Zwartboek Wereldmerken en Hun Praktijken (The Black Book on Corporations), 2001). Due to the silence surrounding this topic, the story seems hard to believe. It, therefore, triggered de Keuringsdienst van Waarde, a group of Dutch journalists, to carry out further research in Burkina Faso through conversations with former child slaves. Sadly, the children could confirm this story not only with words but also with clearly visible wounds as a result of punishments.

According to the de Keuringsdienst van Waarde, approximately 2.5 million cocoa farms exist in Ghana and the Ivory Coast with approximately 2.26 million children carrying out some form of labour on these plantations of which more than 2 million children are exposed to ‘worst forms of child labour’. This involves working hours of more than 9 hours a day 7 days a week, working under dangerous circumstances, human trafficking, dept bondage, or forced labour. How is this still possible? This is shocking, unacceptable I am telling myself while innocently looking at the piece of chocolate cake I am unconsciously eating while writing this blog. This incident shows how unaware I and presumably a lot of people are about the origin of our chocolate, mainly because we are not directly confronted with the issue. This is exactly the reason why awareness on this crisis is imperative. Confronting large companies such as Nestlé is impossible, since the long chain of different corporations, exporters and cocoa farmers involved in the production process make it a hard to trace business. The researchers were thus determined to create their own chocolate company using only traceable beans by working in direct cooperation with a set group of cocoa farmers to compete with these big boys. Tony’s Chocolonely was born. With incredibly tasty chocolate, they lead by example and show the world that chocolate can be made differently. By following Tony’s recipe for slave free cocoa, it’s possible to make slave free chocolate and be commercially successful. The recipe is made of 5 sourcing principles:

  1.  The cocoa beans are fully traceable, purchased directly from the partner cooperatives in Ivory Coast and Ghana.
  2.  Buy the cocoa at an additional premium because the price that farmers usually get paid for their cocoa makes it impossible for them to escape the poverty trap.
  3.  Invest in the cooperatives you work with and help to make the farmers independent and stronger.
  4.  Work with farmers for at least 5 years. That way they know they’ll receive the chocolate’s premium for their harvest for the next few years. That gives them the opportunity to make long-term investments in their farms.
  5.  Not only does the price of cocoa need to be higher, but so does the production. Everyone has to take responsibility for the recipe to work therefore higher quality will come at higher price.

Tony offered a step forward, but for now their chocolate is still, as a result of the price tag, mainly purchased as a gift and not as a standard chocolate bar for oneself. Therefore, awareness should be raised about the horror behind chocolate in order to make a significant change, because, no matter how cheap the chocolate, no one deserves to suffer to satisfy our taste buds. Next time you’re tearing open your chocolate bar make sure to ask yourself: is this chocolate free from a child’s tears?

Written by Else Ellermann & Sheen Gurrib

Cosmetics

This term, Treated Right are running a series of blog posts called ‘True Cost.’ We will be exploring the human cost of so many of the products we buy in our day-to-day lives. From coffee to cosmetics, our shopping decisions have far reaching consequences for millions around the world. But how can we shop in a way that fights against the abuse of millions in the trade of human lives? How can our choices in shops help to change the lives of the 27 million people trapped in slavery?

I felt like I had drawn the short straw when I was left to write the blog post on cosmetics. Coffee and chocolate would be fine- I just buy Fairtrade. I would love to talk about fashion- I’m a walking advert for charity shops! But cosmetics is an entirely different thing. It’s not that I intentionally don’t buy ethical cosmetics, but I had just never even considered that cosmetics could be linked to human slavery.

In the UK alone, we spend £5 billion a year on cosmetics and toiletries, if we can change the way we shop for cosmetics and push for fairer and more ethical brands we can make a huge difference.

The first I thought about how cosmetics had a connection to modern day slavery was through calculating my slavery footprint on slaveryfootprint.org/. One of the questions was about bathroom products. I had always thought that I didn’t really have that many and therefore that my impact would have been insignificant, looking closer, I discovered that I had far more than I realized; and that many of my products had horrific consequences elsewhere.

I started investigating further into make-up and slavery and discovered about Mica, a mineral used in lots of make up which gives it its sparkle. Much of this (around 60%) is mined in India and many of those mining it are children often trapped in forced labour. In fact, an estimated 20,000 children work in Mica mines. Have a look at the articles linked at the bottom of the page to find out more about Mica in Make-up at the bottom of the blog.

But what can we do? With so many people involved and many of these mines currently illegal it feels very difficult to know what to do. Buying from brands which actively source Mica from verified mines which do not use child or forced labour is certainly a good step. Such brands include L’Oréal, one of the few mainstream brands which have this, which has recently implemented a policy regarding Mica on their website. However, progress is still too slow, and more pressure is required in other ways. Pushing this as a key issue for governments is required for policy to change and stricter controls to be placed on the mining of this mineral.

The best first step for us all is to find out more about our own specific slavery footprint, work out your own at slaveryfootprint.org/ and learn more about ethical shopping at https://thegoodshoppingguide.com/

Learn more about Mica and its impact using these links:

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/jul/28/cosmetics-companies-mica-child-labour-beauty-industry-india-

https://www.theage.com.au/national/indias-mica-mines-the-shameful-truth-behind-mineral-makeups-shimmer-20140118-311wk.html

https://inews.co.uk/news/world/mica-mining-fatal/

Written by Rebekah (Boo) Hinton

 

Has anything changed?

The blank screen fades and the sound starts. I sit back in the cinema and finish off the remaining popcorn after gorging most of it through the adverts. The cinema fills with the sounds and images of slaves working on a sugar cane plantation and when Solomon Northup is introduced. We hear of his horrific story of being taken from being a free man- educated and successful- to being entrapped as a slave for 12 years. The film recounts how the violinist was convinced to leave his home and family in Saratoga to perform for a ludicrous sum of money only to be tricked, drugged and kidnapped. He is left with no papers to prove his freedom. Alone and helpless. Trapped in slavery. Beatings, mistreatment and violence play out over the screens- the exploitation of a man and theft of his freedom. Eventually Solomon is freed, welcomed back home with tears. I can’t help but choke up a little myself too as Solomon sees his grandson for the first time- once again a free man. Credits appear on the screen and we file out. Harrowing as it is, we also give ourselves a little pat on the back that; at least our generation is better. We learnt our lesson, right?

But it all seems to be a little too close to home. Let me tell you the story of Gabby.

Gabby is from Nigeria, she grew up on the outskirts of Abuja with her 3 younger brothers and her younger sister. Her mother struggled to get by. Gabby was offered the chance of a new life in the UK, one with the promise of work and education. A life in which she could send money back to Nigeria to support her family.

However, on arriving in the UK she finds that the reality is entirely different. Instead, she is forced into prostitution. She is left with no papers to prove her freedom.

Alone and helpless; trapped. Beatings, mistreatment, and violence are the norm.

But this time it isn’t an Oscar-bait blockbuster. It’s not on the other side of the world. This is happening on the same street as the cinema. It is not a man 150 years ago but rather a 17-year-old girl today.

This is the story of millions of people alive today; 27 million in fact. Some are transported around the world. Some are forced to work long hours under horrific conditions to repay a debt. Some are born into it. Some are sold into it. Some are tricked into it. But all of them have one thing in common:

They have all been stripped of their freedom.

One of the key differences between slavery now and before is the price of slaves. Whilst in the time of Solomon Northup (1850s) an average field labourer would be sold for the equivalent to £15,000 to £30,000 today. However, that same field labourer now costs less than £70.

The average cost of a slave in the world today is just under £70.

The drop in the price of slaves has led to a change in the slavery industry. Slaves can be purchased cheaply but generate high profits. It would have taken about 20 years for an American slave such as Solomon Northup to repay their purchase price and maintenance costs. Today it takes just over 2 years for a bonded labourer in South Asia to do the same. Today’s slave is seen as cheap and disposable with the slaveholder having little incentive to provide health care or protection for slaves. This has led to slavery shifting to become short term.

Put bluntly it is not profitable to keep slaves beyond their short-term usefulness.

This is usually the part of the film when a brave, selfless hero emerges; recognises the deprivation and decides enough is enough. But this isn’t a film, the world doesn’t need Hollywood hero, it needs everyday heroes like you.

Maybe we can make the world change through the everyday acts of people who decide that this injustice has gone too far. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it can instead be the actions of the everyday which will ultimately make history; changing where you shop, getting involved with charities, letting businesses know that it’s not OK.

You can find out your impact at slaveryfootprint.org
You can evaluate where you shop at thegoodshoppingguide.com

Let’s do something now so that the next generation are not left asking if slavery has even changed in the last 150 years.

By Boo Hinton