Trafficking in film

Liam Neeson’s character Bryan Mills in Taken

Taken, Skyfall and 12 Years a Slave: Three approaches to slavery and human trafficking in film

“If you let my daughter go now that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.”

This infamous, instantly quotable and meme-worthy speech of Liam Neeson’s character Bryan Mills in Taken (2008) is upheld faithfully by the father on his mission for his daughter. In full Liam Neeson style, he tracks down the Albanian sex trafficking ring that kidnapped his daughter, and finally discovers her held at knife point by her “buyer” on his private boat. He uses those particular set of skills of his and successfully kills his daughter’s captor. The father and daughter embrace as she cries through her tears, “You came for me”, to which Neeson tenderly replies, “I told you I would.” Neeson’s character fulfils his trustworthy commitment as a father to use whatever means he can to look after his daughter.

Liam Neeson’s character Bryan Mills reunited with his daughter

When Taken came out, it awakened some people to the dangers of human trafficking and sex trafficking in particular. An estimated 24.9 million people are trapped in modern day slavery. With many films out there that address historical slavery, directly or indirectly, it’s a surprise that we do not see as many film addressing the issue of modern day slavery. So when a modern day action film does address it, it is interesting to note the way in which it does so, and the message that it leaves. Does it raise our awareness, show how we are implycated or merely contribute to the problems that lead to sex trafficking?

Another film that engages with this issue, albeit more indirectly, is Skyfall (2012). Now, James Bond has become well known as a womanizer who often treats his love-interests as sexual objects, as expendable as the cars that he writes off. So, when

Sévérine played by Bérénice Marlohe in the James Bond film Skyfall

I watched Skyfall, my interest was piqued during the casino scene, in which Bond meets Sévérine, the mistress of the main villain, the unnervingly creepy Raoul Silva. Bond adeptly recognizes a tattoo on her wrist that reveals she is a sex slave. He sees through her confident show, to see the fear and helplessness in her heart caused by her unwilling slavery to Silva. Bond exhibits some emotional awareness in this scene, seeing the torment Sévérine suffers, gaining her trust and promising to help her. Great! I thought, a mainstream, popular, action film, exposing sex slavery for exactly what it is: slavery.

But what follows is not helpful, either to Sévérine, or to the conversation surrounding sex trafficking and exploited women. In a baffling scene, Sévérine – a victim of sexual abuse – takes a shower, and Bond proceeds to mysteriously walk in and initiate a sexual encounter with her. While this seduction may be seen as a familiar Bond trope, and the scene is played out implying some kind of consent, the history of sexual abuse that any girl trapped in sexual exploitation has experienced (in this case, since the age of 12 or 13 as Bond suggests in the previous scene) means that when a man walks naked into her room, she knows he is carrying all the power. If we can forgive Bond for his usual sexual antics, his attitude to Sévérine’s death is more troubling.

As Bond is receiving the tour of Silva’s island lair, the villain remarks, “There is nothing superfluous in my life; when a thing is redundant, it is – poof [mimes gunshot] – elimina

Silva forces Bond to shoot a shot glass of scotch off Sévérine’s head

ted”, as the camera then pans to a restrained Sévérine. Silva forces Bond to shoot a shot glass of scotch off her head – Bond misses so Silva shoots her in the head. In response Bond sighs and says, “it’s a waste of good scotch.” This evaluation of purchased goods against superfluous “things”: the scotch versus the prostitute is particularly heavy handed. It doesn’t help contribute to a healthy view of women’s true value apart from their use as a sexual object. Bond’s sexual advance on Sévérine and his nonchalan

t response to her death seem to be an attempt to validate his masculinity and cold edged heart, but all they do is perpetuate (and exacerbate) a problem inherent not just in James Bond movies, but many action movies: the objectification of women, which is the whole basis of the sex trade, the selling of humans as objects for the purpose of pleasure. This objectification is painfully explicit as this victim of sex slavery is treated with indifference by a man who promised to protect her. While the casino scene seems to set up a promising story line, what follows sends mixed messages. Bond, and the filmmakers, ruin any chance of a meaningful message being spoken about the value of women and the insidious nature of trafficking.

Now, I love James Bond films, and I love most of Skyfall, and that is precisely why I tackle it. The films that we watch influence the way that we think. Many British boys grow up wanting to be James Bond, and perhaps that inclination remains into young adulthood as Bond is the ideal British gentleman, an image of masculinity. But is this the kind of masculinity we want to be accepted as an ideal? This ideal is raising men who see women as sexual objects, and I think much more likely to buy sexual “services”. One of the main reasons that sex trafficking exists is because there is a consumer demand for it.

Contrast Bond’s response to his girl with Neeson’s response to his daughter: While Sévérine is just a means to the end, a cheap expenditure in his mission and/or the plot, Neeson’s daughter is portrayed as the end goal, the person of great value that must be saved at all costs. However, while Taken definitely offers a positive view on the value of girls caught up in sex trafficking, the ending of a more traditional drama on slavery offers a perspective that we may not have left with leaving the cinema when watching Taken.

Solomon Northupp played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 years a slave

 12 Years a Slave (2013) tells the true story of Solomon Northupp, a free black man who was kidnapped into slavery in 1841. When he is finally rescued by an old acquaintance, he has to leave his friend Patsy and the rest of the slaves behind on the plantation. Solomon leaves in a horse cart looking back at Patsy, and as he turns forwards, we barely catch Patsy fainting in the background, out of focus. What could have been a happy ending becomes mournful but poignant as we are left with the question: what about Patsy? What about the other slaves?

This brings us back to Taken. As Neeson rescues her daughter, we release a sigh of relief -but not because we were unsure if she would be rescued. We knew she would be okay – why? Because her dad is Liam Neeson. How many other prostitutes have a Liam Neeson who can come and save them? We can look back on 12 Years a Slave and wonder if the other slaves on the plantation ever survived to see abolition, but we sigh with a sad acceptance that they did not, and there is nothing we can do about it. However, can we sit with that same mournful resignation over the fate of the girls who Liam Neeson did not have time to rescue, who are currently being exploited all over the world? Is there hope for the rest of these girls, and men, women and children in the wider human trafficking industry? Is there anything we can do about it, or can we just wait for Liam Neeson?

Matt Lewis

Pop Up Shops and Coffee Stops

Gah, I love London.

I love it for its buzz and energy, art, history, culture and diversity. Even though I’ve lived on the outskirts for my whole life, I’m always finding different parts to explore and get excited about.

I had a free afternoon today, so popped into the #trendy East End to scout out a couple of ethical start ups. Here are a couple of things to recommend…

#1 Know the Origin Pop-Up Store (Ethical Clothing)

Know the Origin is a fashion brand and company set up by London College of Fashion graduate, Charlotte Instone. After learning some of the horrific realities of the fashion industry, Charlotte founded KTO to prove that beautiful clothing can be made alongside a commitment to ethical production, transparency, and accountability.

KTO has been running a series of pop-up shops over the last few months, and until this Saturday they’ve set up in two spaces at Old Street Station. At the first you can shop over thirty ethically sourced brands including Birdsong LondonHenriand Saya Designs. At the second, you can look at a gallery of images showing the entire production process of Know the Origin’s designs while sipping on a Pump n’ Grind coffee.








And the store is beautiful! It’s slick and light and has a gorgeous range of stock to browse through, featuring copious other brands alongside KTO’s own clothes, copies of Ethos magazine, underwear, wallets, and handcrafted jewellery. There were also some snazzy info leaflets about the different brands at the checkout. I loved dropping by, and I love my affordable (£26) striped shirt. If you see me in the next month I will probably be cuddling it.

KTO is at Old Street Station until Saturday 26th August… do go and have a look! And at a very walk-able distance away you’ll find…

#2 Kahaila (Coffee Shop)

I think this might be my new happy place.

Nestled in the middle of Brick Lane, Kahaila opened up its doors in 2012 and I’ve wanted to go ever since the Huffington Post ran a feature.

As you walk in, the overriding feeling is one of *homeliness*. Wooden floorboards, lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling and rich modern artwork lining the bricked walls, acoustic background music, cosy sofas and sunflowers… it’s The Dream.

Kahaila is a church, charity, cafe and community which has founded and supports 3 exciting projects: Reflex (which delivers educational life skill courses for women in prison), Luminary Bakery (giving employability courses for women from vulnerable backgrounds) and Ella’s Home (supporting women who have been trafficked or sexually exploited).

The cafe funds the project, but is its own little beacon of positivity, with boardgame nights, book clubs and a chilled ‘We go to church at 6.30 on Sundays!’ invite on the chalkboard. I’ve never had such a joyful brownie or calming flat white.

If you’re meeting a friend for coffee in London, let me gently nudge you towards Brick Lane (or the branch in Aldgate).

Isn’t social enterprise a wonderful thing? Traffickers and abductors seek to enslave people for profit. These hubs of creativity and community give me hope as they put people first again. And they’re all over the place!

Have you come across any enterprises you think are marvellous? Let us know!

Katherine x

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!

Fairer Fashion

Post by Charis Kibble

The fashion and textiles industry is one of the world’s largest industries. It brings in billions of pounds each year and is responsible for millions of jobs world wide.

It’s a powerful industry that over the years has dramatically changed the projection of our economy, and has seen the rise and fall of fashion trends that have changed the way we live and express ourselves. All who wear clothes are involved.

And yet, buried amidst the mass complexity of it all, exploitation and corruption still exists.

‘In Bangladesh two brave women approach their boss with a signed letter from all their colleagues stating that they’d like to start a union and would like to apply for fairer wages. Their request is rejected, they are beaten and abused and told to get back to work. The factory doors are locked and everyone inside is told that they can’t go home until the next orders are met.’

‘In a factory in the UK a migrant worker is being forced to work long hours packing clothing to be sold on an online clothing site. He has had his passport taken away from him. Any mention of this to the authorities would see him being deported back to his own country.’

 ‘Somewhere in a factory in India a young child struggles to stay awake as he sits beside a fabric dye bath – his job is to stop the fabric passing through from twisting and getting caught in the machinery. He doesn’t go to school, instead he works to support his family. Not one of the companies who buy the products he helps make ever come to India to check up on them.’

Though these examples seem like one off scenarios, the truth is these stories are actually driven from countless re-telling’s of exploitation across the fashion supply chain. Exploitation isn’t just a third world country issue, it is happening everywhere and it is happening a lot.

I personally first started learning about all of the issues involved whilst I was at university. I was studying hand embroidery in London and had stumbled across the sustainable fashion brand People Tree.  I read up on all they did, and thought it was great. Though I was intrigued as to why it was so necessary for them to be pioneering a new way of doing fashion.

Obviously, now I am older and wiser and have become fully immersed in the movement of sustainable fashion, I am better equipped in understanding what exactly is going on. Corruption is widespread and change has to be made to ensure that the people who make our clothes are treated with fairness and equality.

Though it must be said, I do often have moments of doubt, where I question what a difference I can really make in an industry so huge.

I recently had a chat with a CEO of a very well known shoe company.
He told me that he can often tell within two days of an item being released in the stores, whether it will sell well or not. And if it does, he knows exactly what type of styles to order in for next time.

It is important to know that every time you buy clothes, you are essentially voting with your money, you are telling companies what you love and what you don’t. You are the reason they exist.

So if you, like me want to make a difference to the fashion industry you can start by becoming someone who votes well with their money.

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 for the people who make their clothes.

Know the Origin, People Tree, Po-Zu, Idioma, Brothers We Stand and Thought Clothing are just a few of my favourites.  You can support them in all they do by making the decision to swap where you shop.

And if spending money isn’t enough of a vote you can use your voice too!

You have the power to tell clothing companies that you want them to be honest and transparent. Making it known exactly where their clothes are coming from and who the people are that are making them. You can tell those companies that you want them to make sure that the people they employ are being treated right.

One really simple way you can do this is by joining the Fashion Revolution movement on the 23rd – 29th of April where hundreds of people will be asking their favourite fashion brands #whomademyclothes !?

Find out more and see the other ways you can be involved in the fashion revolution at:

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23

Charis does hand embroidery, and runs a blog about ethical fashion – do check out her work here!

New Year, New Me?

The beginning of a new year is often a helpful moment for self-reflection, isn’t it?

Whether it brings an optimistic gym subscription or a resolution to file lecture notes straight away (in the words of Aragorn: ‘That is not this day’), we often find ourselves thinking back over the months that have passed and wondering how we might want things to change over the next ones. As we tie up the accounts from our first term of Treated Right, it’s a moment to say thank you for your support – which led to over a £1000 being raised for our chosen charities – and to look towards the future.

With that in mind, it’s also a good opportunity to reflect on developments in human trafficking and exploitation over the last few months on a global and national level. Here are a few noteworthy things:

  • The US Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 (published in April) is so worth reading if you have the time, and want a good overview of the challenges governments face in prevention efforts and the judicial sphere. A section I found particularly encouraging was the TIP Report Heroes,which offers just a few examples of people who are boldly defending the rights of others.
  • There has been positive change in legal efforts: following Britain’s lead (the first country to pass a law requiring companies to disclose their methods to ensure their supply chains are slavery free), other major nations from France to the Netherlands are doing the same. In France, a law was passed which requires companies with over 5,000 employees in the country, or 10,000 worldwide, to publish plans outlining steps to cut out human rights and environmental violations from their supply chains. The Dutch parliament proposed a law to make firms determine if child labour exists in their supply chains, and set out an action plan on how to combat it. Meanwhile, Australia is considering anti-slavery laws similar to Britain’s, and is set to table draft legislation in early 2018.
  • Some of the largest worldwide brands from Adidas to Apple, Intel and Walmart are examining their supply chains and speaking up about what they’re doing to fight slavery. Adidas and Intel were among the winners of the second Thomson Reuters Foundation Stop Slavery Award, recognising their efforts to identify, investigate and root out forced labour. Companies are finding modern slavery is increasingly spotlighted, with regulatory and consumer pressure to disclose what’s going on in the supply chains.

But alongside this there are huge difficulties. Notwithstanding the appalling truth that human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world, here are some facts pertinent to this year:

  • 20 countries in the TIP Report are still not state parties to the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.
  • Earlier this year, legal experts raised serious concerns that Britain’s withdrawal from EU could dramatically curtail efforts to tackle trafficking: the loss of EU regulations, funding from Brussels and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
  • And what’s described as the ongoing ‘human tragedy’ of the migrant crisis means that more people than ever before are vulnerable to this kind of abuse: in November, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi warned: “Compelled to flee, but without legal pathways to safety, refugees are exposed to appalling harm, together with migrants, including torture, rape, sexual exploitation, slavery and other forms of forced labour,”

So at the start of 2018 there’s a lot to look back on. But surely it’s also a moment to review the way we ourselves live and consume, and ask what we can and should change. If you’ve never taken the slavery footprint calculator test at, then I really encourage you to do so. There’s something very stark about seeing how many people are enslaved to work for the things we own and so easily dispose of.

In response to that, this year you could:

  • Commit to buying Fairtrade, whenever the option is there. Items might cost a bit more but as sustainable food advocate Anna Lappe says: ‘Every time you spend moneyyoure casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’ When buying gifts, take a look at brands like Worldcrafts which develops sustainable, fair-trade businesses among impoverished people around the world.
  • Rethink clothing brands in particular. Fast fashion gathered pace from the end of the 1990’s when brands began to look for new ways to increase profits, and it’s a problem which is ever increasing, with building pressure on supply chains. Check out some ethical and sustainable fashion brands like Know the Origin, Charis Esther Hand Embroidery and People Tree And use charity shops more!
  • Keep up to date with what’s going on in legislation so you can be in touch with your MP. This week saw the launch of the website in support of Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. The Bill will give trafficked people in England and Wales a guaranteed right to support in law, not just in the initial period but with the option of a further 12 months afterwards. The website has lots of information about the Bill, stories from survivors and a feature that lets you contact your MP with a pre-written draft email about the Bill to highlight its potential for positive change. Just enter your postcode and the site will send an email on your behalf to your MP. You can change the text or add your own thoughts if you want to.(Click here).
  • Stay engaged.  A few of us from Treated Right will be going to a dance show and talk on Saturday night – ‘Just Sex’ – to learn more about where Cambridge fits into the sex trade… why not join us?

As we look towards the future it can be hard or discouraging sometimes when the change which we long for doesn’t seem to be taking place. Let’s turn frustration into reflection and discouragement into action.

We’re looking to grow and widen our impact this year. Why don’t you too?

That’s one way to start off your new year right.

Someone in the Crowd

In 2012 Barack Obama said of human trafficking: “It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.”[1]

I think it’s a challenge which is helpful, because it brings into sharp juxtaposition an individual responsibility, and a collective one. The global trafficking problem is on such a huge scale that if things are going to change it’ll require huge engagement..

But it takes a community of individuals, in which every person cares, counts and contributes, to make such a collective.

Let’s take a moment to look at the numbers involved.

This week I compiled some figures from the September 2017 report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation. It’s worth a caveat that numbers are difficult and differing, because this is a ‘hidden crime’ and definitions vary.

But here are a few statistics to highlight key areas:

  • An estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery.
  • Of these, 16 million (64%) are exploited for labour, 4.8 million (19%) are sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) are exploited in state-imposed forced labour.
  • 71% of trafficking victims around the world are women and girls.
  • 5 million victims (25%) are children.
  • The Asia-pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced labourers— 15.4 million (62% of the global total), followed by Africa with 5.7 million (23%), then Europe and Central Asia with 2.2 million (9%).
  • It really is true that sex sells. 19% of victims are trafficked for sex, but sexual exploitation earns 66% of the global profits of human trafficking. The average annual profits generated by each woman in forced sexual servitude is $100,000.
  • There were only 9,071 convictions for trafficking globally in 2016.[2]

Those numbers are nothing short of appalling.

And I wonder if sometimes statistics can numb our capacity to care – I struggle to imagine a crowd of 1000 people. So what do I do with a statistic like 5.5 million children?

Maybe here, too, we find a tension between the collective and the individual.

Because surely the moment we let individual lives be subsumed under this huge, unimaginable collective – the moment that we neatly package stories of suffering into tidy statistics – our thinking is on dangerous ground. We cease to see people as individuals, but numbers. And to take that image to its full, horrific extension is to see 24.9 million people with barcodes scrawled upon on their skin.

We’ve got to understand the figures to grasp the scale of the problems, but maybe then we need to ask how we make space to care about those affected.

And maybe an answer is that we start by caring about the one. We let ourselves hurt for the single life that was stolen and sold – the one girl whose childhood was robbed, hopes snatched, body damaged, health wrecked, future lost. We weep for the one girl, because she was made for so much more. Because how dare it be the case that her utter beauty, her worth and preciousness were stripped down to the $100,000 she will make for the sex trade annually.

4.8 million people are being sexually exploited.

But may we never, ever stop agonising over the one.

And maybe this is the moment to ask what part you and I will play in this. We’re each just a ‘one’ in this huge problem.

In future weeks we’ll look at this in greater depth, but perhaps you might review the way that you give. Maybe you work out your slavery footprint, ask who picked your tomatoes or made your clothes, or look at the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Maybe you write a letter to lobby policy makers… or maybe you do any combination of the above, but invite 10 others to join you.

You are one, but you have so much power as an influencer and you’re a part of a collective.

We’re looking at statistics in the millions.

Let’s make the ones count.



[1] According to the 2017 State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report

2] In an address at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York, September 25, 2012.


A Closer Look

Sometimes we’re very good at only seeing what we want to.

Walking into Sainsbury’s, my eyes always home straight in on the cookie section, and somehow manage to bypass the bargain fruit. Or upon spotting a dog down the road, I’ll become totally oblivious to other people/lamp-posts, often with disastrous effects.

It’s something psychologists refer to as ‘selective perception’. I wonder if it’s actually made worse by the age in which we live, where customised ads and ‘suggested for you’ boxes create an online experience designed to draw us in. And where a little notification from our phones distracts us for the next half hour.

It’s easy to filter out the things we don’t want to see, because there’s so much we’d rather look at.

But what about when the things going unnoticed truly, deeply matter?

Human trafficking has been one of those things for me.

I found the prospect so horrific as a teenager that I didn’t give it more than a cursory glance, but this summer I decided that wasn’t good enough any more. I watched a documentary about the global sex trade: ‘Nefarious: Merchant of Souls’, and, in all honesty, I couldn’t quite handle it. Halfway through I hit pause, shut my laptop, and just cried and cried. Then I thought about the mere fact that I could press pause and look away when millions of people are living this as their reality, and I cried more.

Every time I walk into the chapel in my college, I walk past a huge statue of William Wilberforce, who did his undergrad here from 1776-81. (Sometimes that statue prompts a little feeling of inadequacy when all I’ve achieved that day is return an unread library book and do some overdue laundry.)

One of Wilberforce’s own inspirations and closest colleagues was a man called Thomas Clarkson, who really startled to grapple with the slave trade as a student, during his own undergrad at John’s. It’s a wonderful thought, that these young fresh-outta-uni graduates saw something they wanted to change and fought for it relentlessly, even though the situation seemed totally irreversible: in the early 19th century the success of Atlantic trade and commerce was inextricably linked to the expansion of the slave system. But, as Wilberforce famously said: ‘We are too young to realise that certain things are impossible… So we will do them anyway.’

In 1807 the parliamentary act which outlawed the slave trade was passed – what a huge, wonderful moment in the recognition of fundamental human rights.

And yet… last year the Home Office estimated there are around 45 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. There are more slaves today than there ever have been before. And there will be even more tomorrow.

There are a few things that come to mind when I think about Cambridge. It’s a place of immense privilege – privilege that’s open to abuse, or to be channelled into helping others.

It’s a place full of passion.

And it’s a place full of amazing people – people with different skills. That was something Wilberforce recognised and hugely valued: ‘Different persons have various modes of excellence, and we must have an eye to all.’ Wilberforce and his fellow campaigners had a great gift for seeing what every person could bring to a cause.

But perhaps their greatest strength was in helping people to see – to truly see a glimpse of what was happening in the slave trade. That clear understanding was essential in bringing their cause into the public sphere.

‘Treated Right’ is the tiniest project in the midst of a huge problem, just attempting to unpack some of what’s going on in a way that’s accessible. This is going to be a journey and a challenge to me too… and one I hope may drive us into action together. Over the next few weeks we’ll be grappling with the statistics of modern slavery, looking at the work of charities, questioning how our own lifestyles feed into exploitation, and asking where and how we can make a difference.

Alongside that, there’s a weekly baking scheme running in termtime, which involves 10 students baking weekly for 10 friends (details) to raise money for 3 charities. This is a fun and lighthearted thing to raise money, but of course I don’t ever want that to obscure the awful reality of the issues we’re raising money to fight. I want to sugar-coat the cakes, but not the harsh truths.

And so this is an invitation to join me in looking, even if that is hard. A final bit of Wilberforce wisdom says:

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

So whether you are a student, employee, school goer or retired – whether you are well-educated in issues around trafficking, or if, like me, you’ve decided that now might be the time to engage, you’re invited to be a part of this with us.

In an issue where there’s so much that is wrong, we can be people who stand up for others to be treated right.

But first we have to take a look.

Will you?