In the 12 months until March 2017, police in England and Wales recorded 2,255 modern slavery offences (although there is an estimated tens of thousands of offences), according to a new report from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA). ‘The barbaric nature of modern slavery means it destroys the lives of its victims’, commented Victoria Atkins, UK Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability.
The GLAA has outlined the nature and scale of slavery in the UK today – who is being exploited, which industries are affected, and the methods being used.
Some of the key findings include:
- Victims of labour exploitation are most commonly Vietnamese, Albanian and British, with British victims increasing by 362%.
- Forced labour accounts for around 30% of all exploitation. The majority of victims are male EU nationals from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
- ‘Debt bondage’ is an increasing tactic used by criminals, where victims are forced to work off debts they have no control over.
- Social media is being used to recruit workers who go on to be exploited, with some people arriving in the UK for work that doesn’t exist.
- Victims tend to live in poor conditions without basic facilities like electricity, heating and water. They are threatened with losing their jobs if they find somewhere else to live.
- Some workers are being further exploited by being charged a daily rate of transport to and from work, with wages taken directly from their bank account.
Making a strong response against the abuse of others is an essential part of mission. All Christians are called by God to discern and to respond to God’s mission of love to the world, the missio Dei. That activity of God, reconciling the world to God’s own self, generates in Jesus Christ, and through the Spirit, the vision of a world in which human beings live in harmony and love towards one another, respecting each other and supporting one another. Christians are called to work towards the realisation of such a vision, to make the kingdom of God a reality for every human person. This means that human behaviour which values some people more than others, or which exploits or injures others, is not only contrary to God’s will for human beings, but actively damages mission and creates a drag on the reconciliation of the world to God’s own self (2. Corinthians 5.19). The presence of evil behaviour in the world, and the presence of human and institutional sin, is therefore to be resisted and redressed by all Christians as a matter of mission imperative. Human trafficking is one of these evils and we need to understand exactly why, theologically, trafficking is wrong, so that we can speak about it with confidence and also speak out against it; and secondly, what we should be doing to counteract it, so as to allow the reconciling activity of God to work unimpeded in our world.
To refuse to respect others or to treat them as less than fully human is an offence against the imago Dei and against God. So is any action which deliberately prevents people becoming who God created them to be. Click To Tweet
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
2. Corinthians 5:18-19 (NRSV)
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1.26-27 (NRSV)
The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’
Mark 12.31 (NRSV)
He squats in a subway with a woman who is his minder, not his mother. She is not free either, but that doesn’t mean she will stick up for him. Her job is to make sure the money he begs for is squirreled away and given to the gang who control them. She keeps an eye out for police or anyone who takes an unusual interest. His job is to beg for money, to cry when prompted, which isn’t hard, the bruises are tender and his ribs hurt from the last time he displeased the people who tell him what to do. His job is to be enough of a child to prompt a sympathy donation and to learn when to fade back to the shadows. If he does this, he will be fed enough to do it again tomorrow. He does not know where his parents are; this is all the life he knows. He is six years old.
We may feel instinctively that the woman and the child in this story are not living as human beings are ‘meant’ to live, but how do we know how human beings are meant to live? What is the Christian perspective on being human and on human life?
Genesis tells us that human beings are made in the image of God, the imago Dei (Genesis 1.26-27). While this theological concept has been debated by different theologians down the centuries, we can use this powerful idea to understand that all human beings come into being in the same way under God and that God values, desires and loves each person equally. Further, every human being is called by God and cherished by God. It follows that all of us should value, cherish and respect the dignity of every other person, irrespective of their beliefs, ethnic background, economic status, gender or sexual orientation. The idea of imago Dei requires that we recognise our origins in the Other and seek to be in mutually respectful and loving relationships with other people. Such respect and recognition is at the heart of God’s mission and reconciling work. To refuse to respect others or to treat them as less than fully human is an offence against the imago Dei and against God. So is any action which deliberately prevents people becoming who God created them to be.
That means that we should not exploit other human beings as property or treat them as commodities. Jesus tells us: love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12.31). However, while it is easy to say that we would never treat people as commodities, in fact we often do not live up to what Jesus asks of us. We may not be involved in human trafficking, but we also may, in many different ways, contribute to a culture which does indeed both see human beings as commodities and creates the conditions where people in desperation offer themselves as commodities. Human trafficking does not happen in a vacuum but is part of an exploitative culture in which poverty, inequality, oppression, anxiety and fear all play their part. Many of those working to help victims of trafficking find their experiences symptomatic of deeper disease: ‘What is beneath the surface of these bad guys exploiting vulnerable people? I’m sure we’ll find poverty in all its forms.’
If you want to explore these issues in more detail see the Liberation and Entrapment Project: Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery from the Mission Theology Advisory Group (MTAG).