Making our Communities Slavery Free
Nottingham is a friendly and attractive city situated in the centre of England, surrounded by beautiful countryside including the Peak District national park and Sherwood Forest. Around 756, 000 people live and work in and around the city, and it draws 35 million visitors a year to its businesses, leisure, retail and nightlife. Nottingham also has a strong identity, intimately connected with some of the most potent English legends and episodes of history, including the myth of Robin Hood, the legendary outlaw who robbed the rich to feed the poor. A proactive stance towards campaigning for social justice is embedded deep in the city’s DNA.
It isn’t the kind of place you expect to find slavery, but we know that it is present. Nottinghamshire made more than 70 referrals last year into the National Referral Mechanism, the UK Government’s support system for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking. Cases included labour, sexual and criminal exploitation, as well as domestic servitude. The local police would say this is the ‘tip of the iceberg’, as the National Crime Agency suspect ‘tens of thousands’ of cases of modern slavery in the UK. We also know that our city is not unique: that slavery exists in every part of the world in diverse forms, and infects our everyday life through practices ingrained in our cultures, businesses and economy.
Shortcomings concerning the Modern Slavery Act
In the UK we have passed the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, to clarify the law relating to slavery, and to put pressure on business to report what they are doing to remove slavery and forced labour from their supply chains. However, the Act has shortcomings, particularly in relation to providing adequate protections for victims and survivors, and enforcing the transparency in supply chains reporting. In addition, implementation has been patchy, due to a failure to plan and fund action at a local level. As a result, anti-slavery activity has often been fragmented and lacking in co-ordination.
Nottingham sets the example
Our solution in Nottingham has been to start working towards becoming slavery-free city and community, joining up all the energy present in public, private and voluntary bodies to address this issue at a local level. Local co-ordination is essential because slavery is frequently first encountered and responded-to by frontline public services and community groups, necessitating strong multi-agency and community partnerships. We also need to build networks with community leaders to enable honest conversations about the cultural ingredients for preventing slavery and ensuring sustainable freedom: challenging social attitudes towards domestic servitude or forced marriage, for example, or changing behaviour to impact upon consumer choices.
Our starting point for action was six core themes, drawn from Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter’s 2009 book ‘The Slave Next Door’. These included building local and distributed civic leadership; raising awareness; training front line staff; working with local businesses towards a slavery-free economy; improving support for victims and survivors, and sharing intelligence (particularly in relation to enforcement). The University is now part of a strong local partnership involving all local statutory and voluntary agencies, as well as the local Chamber of Commerce. We promote a slavery-free pledge and transparency statement for adoption by local institutions, and the local Police and Crime Commissioner has funded training for more than 1000 local frontline public service and voluntary sector staff in recognising signs of slavery. Nottinghamshire Police and enforcement agencies have made huge strides in identifying victims and developing strategies for the disruption of exploitation.
The future is bright
However, we still have more to do, particularly on improving targeting of awareness campaigns, engaging local businesses, and supporting survivors. We’ve also realised that our local work is inevitably shaped by the limitations of wider structural and legislative frameworks, such as immigration policy and economic opportunities. Sometimes local action involves evidencing the changes we need to make to regulation or legislation at a national level, and our efforts are always in the shadow of challenges such as public spending cuts, or public and political attitudes towards welfare benefits and migration. In addition, just like action on climate change, locality level work has to be under-pinned by personal-level awareness and responsibility, such as a more questioning attitude towards cheap goods and services.
Yet our vision – towards building a community that is sustainably slavery free – has proved a powerful rallying point to capture people’s attention and imagination. Our long-term ambition is to partner with other cities on this agenda, sharing mutual learning to make a global impact.