LOUGHRAN: Slavery in modern Britain? Too true but today, it’s on farms and kitchens - Daily Nation

Slavery in modern Britain? Too true but today, it’s on farms and kitchens

Sunday August 28 2016

People holding a banner reading

People holding a banner reading "No to slavery" during a demonstration against discrimination in Nouakchott. The United States on August 20, 2016 condemned Mauritania's imprisonment and alleged torture of protesters, including anti-slavery activists. PHOTO | AFP  

By GERRY LOUGHRAN
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The headline said, “Slavery reports rise fivefold.” Slavery, here in Britain, in 2016? The very word seems to come from another age.

And, indeed, the trade in African slaves was abolished 219 years ago. But holding and using humans as virtual prisoners, without rights and in effective bondage, continues, the victims almost always being helpless foreigners.

In its latest report, the Salvation Army says it has seen a nearly fivefold rise in the number of slavery victims it has helped in England and Wales since 2012, from 378 people to 1,805.

One victim said she came to England from south-east Asia to work as a servant in the home of a wealthy family. “I was forced to work 14 hours a day, even on building sites,” she said. “I felt like a chained dog. Even now, I feel like I am in chains. I still have nightmares that my boss is chasing me.”

The woman is now in a safe house and is applying for asylum in the United Kingdom. Officials say 21st century slavery takes these basic forms: domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labour, forced marriage and child labour.

The Salvation Army said that 44 per cent of those it helped had been exploited sexually, 42 per cent were used on farms and building sites, and 13 per cent were household slaves.

UNSURE OF LEGAL STATUS

Criminal middle men convince potential victims they can get them good jobs in the UK, but when they arrive, the women often find they are expected to work as prostitutes, and the men to labour without pay and live in trailer encampments. Often without any English and unsure of their legal status, they do not know where to turn for help.

The Salvation Army said most of the victims it helped came from Eastern Europe, but Nigerians were third on its list and others came from Sudan and Eritrea.

The Salvation Army’s Anne Read said it was difficult to know the full extent of the slavery problem. The increase in cases could be because there were more victims but also that awareness of available assistance was rising.

Government minister Sarah Newton said, “Slavery has long been hidden in plain sight and we encourage more victims to come forward and ask for help.”

***

So my last week’s column highlighting British success half-way through the Rio Olympics was justified. The athletes continued their winning ways, finishing second out of 205 nations, ahead even of China (population 1.3 billion) and behind only the United States. GB’s total of 67 medals was its best yet.

It is hard to pick a star, but the papers are calling for a knighthood for Mohammed Farah, winner of gold once more in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races.

Mo, as he is known, came to England from Somalia as a three-year-old, and now is married with four children. Asked how he would feel if a knighthood came his way, he shook his head. “Sir Mo? I can’t get my head round it.”

That millions of pounds from the National Lottery bankrolled athletes in a wide spread of disciplines was crucial to success. Officials have already started funding likely competitors in the next Olympics in Japan four years’ hence.

And one final thing: All that money in officials’ hands and nobody stole a penny!

***

If you’ve got an office job, beware. More than a million people took part in a study, published in the medical magazine, The Lancet, which found that sitting for more than eight hours a day without taking exercise significantly increases the risk of dying early.

People in this group, who include bus, train and truck drivers, were up to 60 per cent more likely to die prematurely than more active individuals.

Hearts and artery disease and cancers were the most likely causes of death linked to an inactive lifestyle.

The World Health Organisation urges workers to take at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, but many people find this difficult. Physiotherapist Nick Livadas said, “For some, it can be difficult to get active, but by starting slowly and gradually increasing their activity levels, everyone can benefit.”

The Lancet urged employers to be generous about office staff taking time away from their desks, even just for occasional visits to the coffee machine or water cooler.

***

Conundrum: The Olympics can inspire children to get excited, sporty and active, but it can also inspire them to sit on the sofa and watch the Olympics.

***

Two explorers were trekking through the jungle when a lion roared nearby. Immediately, one of the explorers kicked off his jungle boots and donned running shoes.

“What are you doing?” his companion asked. “You can’t possibly outrun the lion.”

“I don’t need to outrun the lion,” he replied, “I just need to outrun you.”

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