Human Trafficking: What Can I Do? (Script)

(The following was used as the basis for a talk in June 2018 – the resources mentioned on a handout are given below!)

Human trafficking is a pretty overwhelming issue. It’s one that I’ve found paralysing in scale and intensity. But the focus of our event this morning is ‘What Can I Do?’ – ‘Can I make any difference?’

Just to give you a sense of where we’re headed over the next hour, we’re going to start by giving an overview of the problem: the numbers that are involved, and the process that takes place when someone is trafficked. After that we’ll think about responding to the issue, both individually and as part of a wider collective. We’ll then come in to land with a time of discussion to think through some questions together in smaller groups which will hopefully point to some practical steps we can all take.

So first, let’s think about what trafficking involves.

Often people assume slavery is a thing of the past – abolished 200 years ago and confined to the history books. But modern slavery is a huge part of the present, and there are people living in slavery not only throughout the world, but within our own communities right now.

You might have heard it said that there are more slaves now than ever before in human history. Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating more than $150 billion USD every year.

But what is human trafficking? There are 3 aspects which are integral to its meaning: the act, the means and the purpose.

In the year 2000, the UN officially defined the ‘act’ of human trafficking as ‘the recruitment, transportation, harbouring or receipt of persons’. The ‘means’ are the ‘use of force, deception, coercion or abuse of power. And the ‘purpose’ is always exploitation.

These definitions convey something of the vulnerability of those who are made victims.  The Global Slavery Index put it like this:

Modern slavery involves ‘millions of people who cannot walk away, who are trapped and denied freedom and lives of dignity, and bound only to serve and profit the criminals who control them.’

As a global crime, trafficking now affects nearly every country in the world. The International Labour Organisation puts the total figure at 24.9 million victims worldwide, but accurate numbers of victims are difficult to come by. Detection rates are low, secrecy and cover-ups are high. In many countries, people can disappear without trace; records of missing children or migration of ‘workers’ are rarely documented precisely.

People are trafficked for many purposes: forced labour is particularly common. There’s also trafficking which forces its victims into begging, armed combat, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Of these, we’re going to hone in on the sex trade as the most lucrative form, which earns 2/3 of the global profits of human trafficking.

We’re going to do that by watching some of a documentary which some of you might have seen before, called Nefarious. This is an in-depth look at the realities of sex slavery as experienced daily by innumerable victims, through the eyes of both the enslaved and their traffickers. I’d recommend watching all of it –you can rent it online – but we’re going to watch the first 20 minutes to get a flavour of what’s going on in the industry. Just a content warning – the violence is reconstructed but it’s deliberately very hard-hitting, so you may find it upsetting.

[Nefarious: beginning – 21 minutes]

I’ve watched Nefarious several times now, and I still struggle to keep my eyes on the screen. The depth and intensity of injustice make me want to cry. But I’ve been really challenged by the words of a trafficking survivor who reflected on the time trapped in the sex trade.

She later said: ‘When I was in captivity, I didn’t need someone to cry about this.  I needed someone to do something.’

It’s easy to feel paralysed by the problem, to feel too small to make a difference. But this woman calls on us to take action. So what can we do? What can you do?

Briefly, I want to tell you about two students at John’s a few years ago, Tom and Will. Tom was a mathmo who worked quite hard throughout his degree and Will was a bit of a partygoer who concentrated just long enough to get through his finals. They met whilst at John’s.

While he was studying, Tom started to become interested in the issue of slavery. He entered an essay competition put on by the Vice Chancellor which won first prize… and in the process of researching and writing this essay, Tom’s whole life changed. He realised that slavery was not this theoretical concept to be debated but a horrific reality all around him. After university, Tom decided to work to tackle slavery through legislation, and got in touch with Will, who had since gone into politics. Tom was the researcher, and the planner, and Will was the public speaker. The two of them devoted the rest of their lives to standing up for freedom. They changed the culture and law of their entire country.

And if you know anything about the abolitionist movement, you might have gathered that I’m talking about the lives of Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce, who met at John’s in the late 18th century, and whose work (alongside others) led to the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire in 1833.

The odds were absolutely stacked against them. In the early 19th century the success of Atlantic trade and commerce were inextricably linked to the expansion of the slave system. Public opinion was against them. The task of abolition seemed so momentous. But as an impassioned Wilberforce once declared:

We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible… So we will do them anyway.”’

Something I love about this story is that for Clarkson, this was a journey that began in his time at university. He spoke out while he was at Cambridge, and then for the rest of his life. And I do believe these years as students are absolutely formative ones, and that there are things we can do right now, where we are that can play a part in standing against this huge worldwide issue.

So in asking the question, ‘What can I do?’ we’re going to offer 5 different roles you already have or could have now which might equip you to make a difference. They’re alliterative for ease of memory… although the alliteration becomes progressively less convincing!

You can make a difference….

  • As a contributor
  • As a consumer
  • As a constituent
  • As a caller
  • As a culture shaper

Let’s think about the first of these.

You can make a difference as a contributor.

Our actions can be most powerful when they contribute to a collective effort. Whilst trafficking is a growing problem, it’s encouraging to see a rapid increase in charities, activist groups and rehabilitation centres who are united in a desire for freedom. Here we find people on the front line, directly affecting legislation and offering support to victims.

Sometimes giving to charity can be seen almost as a kind of cop-out response to a problem, as if you’re not really doing anything at all – the reality is that it’s absolutely the opposite. It’s supporting and resourcing people who are best placed to be making a difference. Anti-trafficking charities are reliant on the generosity of ordinary people to keep running, and they want people who donate to stay engaged with the work they do. Here are a few to put on your radar –

Hope for Justice does great work in prevention through outreach teams, self-help groups and community education initiatives which empower people to protect themselves and their families from traffickers. It also runs an initiative called the Slave Free Alliance for businesses to help them recognise and eliminate slavery from supply chains.

Beyond the Streets is a UK-based charity working to help people find routes out of sexual exploitation. They do great work in recognising the link between trafficking, coercion and prostitution, and they offer a phone line for women who want to find their way out of the sex trade.

Unseen run fantastic safe houses, providing survivors with access to medical care, counselling, legal and financial assistance, and education. They then help survivors to reintegrate into their communities.

A21 has done a lot of work in the last 10 years in raising public awareness, and training law enforcement and government officials to identify slavery, represent survivors in court and assist in the prosecution of traffickers.

And lastly International Justice Mission has a particular focus on combating slavery within the developing world. It not only seeks to rescue and restore and represent survivors, but attempts to uncover problems in national justice systems and comes up with solutions, offering resources, training and accountability.

We all have the potential to contribute a portion of our income to support the work of charities. But charities don’t just want your money – they want your engagement. Through something as simple as signing up to a mailing list and reading regular updates, we can also contribute in other practical ways – representing them at events, or becoming a volunteer speaker. On your handout there a couple of suggested ways you might work to support these charities that aren’t financial.

We’re not on our own in wanting to end slavery. There are existing groups doing great work that rely on the contributions of people like you and me.

Second, we can make a difference as a consumer.

As sustainable food advocate Anna Lappe says: ‘Every time you spend money, you‘re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’

I talk about this quite a lot, but I think the Slavery Footprint calculator online is a great resource. It asks you a series of questions about your shopping choices and then estimates how many slaves work to produce the products you use. It can hammer home the reality of the people behind our products.

As consumers we have a voice through our retail purchasing power. All of us can impact the policies of the companies we buy goods from, by making it known we don’t condone the use of slave labour.

Apps such as Free2WorkGood Guide, and the Good Shopping Guide make it easier for us to make purchases with the confidence that money isn’t going towards forced labour practices. The Modern Slavery Act in 2015 means that companies are lawfully obliged to disclose what they’re doing to try to eliminate slavery from their supply chains. The information has to be put out to the public, which means we can be in dialogue with the brands that we shop from. Have a look at Made in a Free World makes it simple for consumers to write to top brands asking them to address forced labor in their supply chains.

In particular, the fashion industry really needs us as consumers to speak out. Fast fashion generates billions of pounds each year and is responsible for millions of jobs worldwide. As came under scrutiny when a Bangladesh factory collapsed in 2013, exploitation and a devaluing of human life are rife in the industry. BUT there are many new sustainable fashion brands on the scene that are all committed to transparency in their supply chains and who provide fair wages including Know the Origin, People Tree, Po-Zu, Idioma, Brothers We Stand and Thought Clothing.

There isn’t really time to go into this now, but I would class something else beneath this heading of consumer which is pornography. The sex trade is like any industry: demand is what creates supply. And pornography demands a constant stream of new, increasingly violent and often underage content.

As noted by America’s National Centre on Sexual Exploitation, ‘in order to keep up with this demand, more women and children become prostituted and trafficked.’ Put simply, clicking on porn directly fuels the demand for sex traffickers. The things that we consume, or choose not to consume make a difference.

So…. we’ve thought about being a contributor and a consumer. But what about the decisions and laws which are made?

Whether you think about it or not, you also have a role as a constituent.

We can often shy away from the word ‘politics, picturing Prime Minister’s Question Time or a room full of rich men in tidy suits. But the word ‘politics’ is derived from the Greek ‘polis’, which means both ‘city’ and ‘a body of citizens’. Politics is really about people and the relationships between them. Politics is something each one of us is thinking about every time we question how people should be treated. I wonder if you’ve ever written to your MP?

As a constituent you have a say in the debates and votes your local MP turns up to. By staying in touch with current news you can write in an informed and specific way about national slavery legislation: at the moment the big discussion is around Lord McColl’s Bill about aftercare for victims of trafficking, which is due to have its second reading in November. You can ask your MP to go to that and vote in favour – or you could organise a group of your friends to sit down and write 30 letters to your MP, asking him or her to go and vote in favour.

As a constituent you can contribute to local government. You can start a local campaign and enlist the support of your MP to increase exposure. Or you can even join a party and help set the agenda of local politics. Because trafficking is a global issue but it’s also a local one… which links to another way you might respond to trafficking which is happening right in front of you.

You can make a difference as a caller to the modern slavery helpline. Human trafficking is often described as a ‘hidden crime’ and yet it’s also often in plain sight. There are an estimated 13,000 slaves in the UK today. There were 8 slaves detected in Cambridge last year. This really can be in front of us.

A few months ago my friend Lucy found while she was on a train in London that she could hear the girl next to her talking on the phone. Something seemed wrong – the girl sounded afraid of the man she was speaking to, and the conversation seemed really coercive. But in that moment Lucy had no idea what to do. The girl got off the train and that was it. Lucy later said if she’d been in that scenario again she wished she’d done something… but she still didn’t know quite what the right thing was to do.

A recent campaign by A21 called, ‘CAN YOU SEE ME?’ challenges the general public to be aware of indicators of human trafficking and prepared to respond. Their posters have been particularly helpful at airports and national borders, and have led to direct interception of potential trafficking victims. But the campaign also highlights the need to be on the lookout in our home communities. In fact, recent research has suggested that those working in nail bars and carwashes are particularly at risk. The campaign “Safe Car Wash App” was recently launched by the Church of England amid growing concerns that hand car washes operating around the country are exploiting workers. The app lets drivers type in their location when arriving at a car wash then flick through a series of slavery indicators such as whether the car wash only accepts cash, evidence of workers living on site or whether the workers seem fearful. If the answers indicate a high likelihood of slavery, users will be directed to a modern slavery helpline.

Some of the signs particular to different types of trafficking are included on the handout – things like noticing someone is always picked up and dropped off at work location by another person, or windows being covered from the inside, or money for a service being collected by someone who has not the done the work for it.

If you identify any of the signs of human trafficking, call the modern slavery helpline and tell them everything you can. You may be mistaken… but you may be right. You could make the phone call that restores a life. 

The final role for us to think about is being a culture shaper.

Something I find really exciting about the abolitionist movement back in the nineteenth century is the way that the discussion spilled over into every section of society, because people who cared about slavery were talking about it wherever they were. And they did that in different ways. Elizabeth Barrett-Browning wrote poetry against slavery. The renowned potter Josiah Wedgewood designed a medallion circulated everywhere inscribed with the phrase, ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’  From poetry to pottery, people spoke out in so many different ways.

And in the last year of starting to look at what’s going on in response to trafficking, I’ve been so encouraged to see that attitude at work, where people use their specific gifting in their individual spheres to shape a culture which stands against slavery. A few months ago in Cambridge there was a dance show put on to raise awareness about the sex trade. I’ve come across a bread-making enterprise where trafficking survivors are taught to run their own business. I have several friends who are working in ethical fashion. The moment you take a cause and a passion with you somewhere, you have the potential to shape culture by influencing those around you.

You might change the coffee you buy to Fairtrade. What about the coffee your college serves… have you checked to see if that’s Fairtrade? If you work for a company in a few years that sees 5,000 cups of coffee made each week, could you suggest to the CEO that the company goes Fairtrade?

We all have the potential to be culture shapers.

So… we’ve done a quick tour through 5 roles you have that enable you to make a difference: as a contributor, a consumer, a constituent, a caller and a culture shaper.

And briefly before we move into a time of discussion, I’m going to explain how Treated Right is trying to play into some of these roles here in Cambridge.

Treated Right is something a group of us started up in October this academic year, and it’s a project which exists to inform and equip students to speak out against slavery in their own colleges. The impetus for it was partly the absence of a student group looking at modern slavery. This is probably most succinctly explained in a video we put together at the start of Lent term.


Hopefully that’s helped to give a bit of context for who we are! And it’s worth mentioning – Treated Right will be running during Michaelmas and Lent next year – if you’re still in Cambridge and you want to keep engaging with human trafficking, then this is a really simple thing you can get involved in and you’d be really welcome to explore.

We’re going to finish with some time in discussion in smaller groups. Here are some questions for you to ponder over together:

  • How much engagement have you had with human trafficking before today? What (if any!) new information have you learnt?
  • How did the excerpt from the documentary make you feel? And why?
  • When you think about the scale of trafficking, does it propel you towards action or make you feel like you can’t do anything?
  • If you decided this was something you wanted to prioritise, how could you best contribute to an anti-trafficking organisation?
  • How much thought do you give to the products you buy? What steps could you take in the next 6 months to become a more ethical consumer?
  • How aware would you say you are of potentially vulnerable people in public places? How could you make a conscious effort to recognise a potential victim of trafficking?
  • Do you consider yourself ‘political’? If not, why not? How might you use your role as a constituent to greater effect?
  • What do you have in your hands? What skills, interests and spheres of influence are particular to you? How might you communicate an awareness of modern slavery to others?
  • If you are staying at Cambridge next year, what might you do here to make a difference? If you are moving on… same question!

I long to see a world without human trafficking – without free labour that comes at the greatest human cost. There is such a lot to be done but we are not on our own in this. No- one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –


1) Contributor

Some recommended charities… and things you can do as an addition/alternative to donating

Hope for Justice – train as a volunteer speaker/check out their Slave-Free Alliance when you’re in the workplace

Beyond the Streets – volunteer with the Doors of Hope project in East London

Unseen – take part in the ‘Let’s Nail It’ campaign, raising awareness around slavery in nail bars

A21 – look at the ‘A-Team’ running in Cambridge

International Justice Mission – work with them abroad for a year

2) Consumer… where to start??

Check how many slaves work for you with the online Slavery Footprint Calculator

Look at apps which enable us to buy with confidence: Free2WorkGood Guide, and the Good Shopping Guide 

Made in a Free World can help you write to top brands asking them to address forced labour in their supply chains.

When buying gifts, take a look at brands like Worldcrafts which develops sustainable, fair-trade businesses among impoverished people around the world.

Some ethical fashion brands: Know the Origin, People Tree, Po-Zu, Idioma, Brothers We Stand, Thought Clothing, Charis Esther Embroidery

For evidence on the connection between pornography and sex trafficking, Fight the New Drug is the website to look at

3) Constituent

Politics is about PEOPLE not abstract principles! It’s exciting!

You can… keep up to date with current news on anti-slavery legislation: look at Lord McColl’s Bill and contact your MP, start up a local campaign and enlist the support of your MP to increase exposure… or even join a party and help set the agenda of local politics.

4) Caller

The National Modern Slavery Helpline (run by Unseen) is 0800 121 700 – call to report anything suspicious – it doesn’t matter if you’re wrong… you could be right.

Learn to spot the signs of trafficking:

General indicators

  • Be fearful of police/authorities or of the trafficker
  • Exhibit signs of physical and psychological trauma e.g. anxiety, lack of memory of recent events
  • Be fearful of telling others about their situation
  • Be unaware they have been trafficked and believe they are simply in a bad job
  • Have limited freedom of movement
  • Be unpaid or paid very little; seem to be in debt to someone
  • Have limited access to medical care
  • Have no passport or mention that someone else is holding their passport
  • Be regularly moved to avoid detection

Sexual Exploitation: residential housing/hotels increasingly used as brothels. Victims may:

  • Be moved between brothels, sometimes from city to city
  • Letterbox or any doors of property appear to have been sealed from inside
  • Sleep on work premises
  • Display a limited amount of clothing, of which a large proportion is sexual
  • Display substance misuse
  • Be forced, intimidated or coerced into providing sexual services
  • Be subjected to abduction, assault or rape
  • Be unable to travel freely e.g. picked up and dropped off at work location by another person
  • Have money for their services provided collected by another person

 Forced Labour

  • Threat or actual physical harm
  • Restriction of movement or confinement
  • Debt bondage; withholding of wages or excessive wage reductions
  • Withholding of documents e.g. passport/security card
  • Threat of revealing to authorities an irregular immigration status
  • Their employer is unable to produce documents required
  • Poor or non-existent health and safety standards
  • Requirement to pay for tools and food
  • Imposed place of accommodation (and deductions made for it)
  • No access to labour contract
  • Excessive work hours/few breaks

Criminal Activities

The victim is forced/deceived into conducting some form of criminal activity such as pick pocketing, begging, cannabis cultivation and benefit fraud.

  • Windows of property are permanently covered from the inside
  • Visits to property are at unusual times
  • Property may be residential
  • Unusual noises (e.g. machinery)/pungent smells coming from the property

 Domestic Servitude

  • Living and working for a family in a private home
  • Not eating with the rest of the family
  • Have no bedroom or proper sleeping place; have no private space
  • Forced to work excessive hours; “on call” 24 hours a day
  • Never leaves the house without the ‘employer’
  • Malnourished
  • Reported as missing or accused of crime by their ‘employer’ if they try to escape

5) Culture shaper…

… Speak out, stand up, go against the grain, start conversations, use your gifts!

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