A Yorkshire academic has warned that the hidden nature of modern slavery makes it hard to know how many people in the UK are victims of the trade in human misery.
Professor Gary Craig spoke out on the second anniversary of the Modern Slavery Act, the first legislation tackling slavery since the days of Hull-born William Wilberforce, being passed into law.
The public response should always be to report misgivings to the police: better to have the response that all is actually in order than run the risk that people may be left in slavery.Professor Gary Craig
In the run-up to the anniversary, organisations across the North highlighted the threat posed by modern slavery by planting a specially cultivated rose.
This included a ceremony at York St John University, where Vice-Chancellor Professor Karen Stanton planted a floribunda peach-coloured tea rose on campus. The Modern Slavery Rose was originally developed for the Gold-winning Modern Slavery Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show by Dickson Nurseries.
Technical advice came from Professor Craig, Professor Emeritus of Social Justice at the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull, who led the rose-planting campaign with the Anti-Trafficking Student Group of the University of York Students Union.
He said: “Modern slavery is a hidden crime because, except in a very few countries, it is illegal to traffic human beings for sexual purposes, to exploit them severely in forced labour conditions, to use children to work in harsh conditions and so on.
“This means it is often difficult to identify and certainly very difficult to know how many people in the world, or even in a country like the UK with relatively sophisticated criminal justice systems, may be trapped in slavery.
“Those aware of slightly strange patterns of behaviour – a back street factory where workers never seem to see the light of day, a house which is visited by many men but no women, a house where electricity consumption may be huge, children begging on the streets, rather desperate-looking men offering to tarmac your drive, very casualised car washes – these may all be hiding situations of slavery.
“The public response should always be to report misgivings to the police: better to have the response that all is actually in order than run the risk that people may be left in slavery.”
At a planting ceremony in Hull, the Lord Mayor Councillor Sean Chaytor paid tribute to the struggle of William Wilberforce two hundred years ago and said there was another war against slavery to be won today, one to which everyone could contribute.
Other organisations planting roses included the students union anti-trafficking society at the University of York, Knaresborough Town Council, led by the town’s Mayor, Councillor Bill Rigby, a women’s institute and a gardening club.