You know when you see something and it doesn’t quite look right? A friend showed me a picture recently of three men who were resurfacing her drive. One of the three workers didn’t really speak, and didn’t seem to speak any English, she said. She showed me a photo of them. The odd thing was what he was wearing: he had on what looked like suit trousers and smart shoes, with a dirty t-shirt. “Yes,” I agreed, “That is a very odd thing to wear when laying a drive.”
It reminded me of a conversation I’d had in a supermarket car park with a woman who was cleaning my car in the middle of December. “Are your hands not freezing?” I said. “No”, she said, “Gloves would just get wet.” “What about waterproof gloves?” I asked, “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” But I did worry about her, especially a few months later when she was reaching to clean my windscreen whilst very pregnant, and on her feet working a very long shift, with no chair to sit down. It felt a bit odd, but this was a car park of a huge supermarket. They must know who is working here and have all their rights protected.
At the time I lived in Oxford in a theological college with the sisters of Clewer, who were ‘on the sassy end’ of the monastic spectrum, according to our college Principal. They sold their land in Devon and with some of the money, set up the Clewer Initiative, which raises awareness about modern slavery. (www.theclewerinitiative.org) As part of this they have a ‘Safe carwash app‘ that they have made in conjunction with the Santa Marta Group. (www.theclewerinitiative.org/news/safecarwashreport).
I recently downloaded the app and discovered a few features of modern slavery: people may not have appropriate clothing or equipment for the job they are doing; they may be dishevelled, or reluctant to speak; you may be asked to pay in cash; or have to give money to a manager. Then I read the report on the app, and discovered that of the 2000 people who downloaded the app, 41% recorded features of modern slavery. However, only 26% of the people who were advised by the app to contact the police, actually did.
The Church of England so wants to celebrate its place in the history of the Abolition of Slavery Act, however this is always tainted by the huge number of modern slaves that exist in Britain and around the world. Modern slaves who make components in our phones, who make our clothes, who clean our cars and do our nails.
In 2014, the Home Office estimated that there were 10,000 – 13,000 people living in Modern slavery in the UK. However, the Global Slavery Index estimates that there could be 136,000 slaves in the UK (https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/country-studies/united-kingdom/), that’s more than the whole population of Chester.
Recently, the largest modern slavery ring has been convicted in the West Midlands. They were discovered by people working in food banks, wondering why people were coming to them who said they had full time jobs, but earned only enough to pay their rent, nothing more. People who said their full-time pay was £60 per week. It was these people, these volunteers, many of whom come from faith communities who actually saw these people and asked them about the circumstances of their lives. This was the only place they weren’t faces behind a mask in a nail bar, or hands that quickly and cheaply wash your car while you wait, or shop. They weren’t noisy neighbours in an overcrowded house or a cleaner whose name you never asked. Seeing what is really in front of us and being brave enough to call out injustice when we suspect it are deeply Christian principles. And it is made very easy when all we have to do is open our eyes and then make a phone call. Anti-Slavery Day is Friday 18th October