25 March is the UN International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Tragically, slavery didn’t end with abolition in the 19th century—it just looks different, writes Faye Michelson.
Princess Eugenie is asking a question—and is urging us to do the same.
The younger daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson has thrown her support behind a Salvation Army campaign to encourage us to think about slavery. Yes, slavery—occurring now, in the 21st century, in your country, your town/city/suburb, even in your street.
The recently launched UK Salvation Army’s anti-slavery campaign aims to empower ‘ordinary people’ to fight against slavery by using the hashtags #askthequestion and #slavefree to ask businesses and services whether their supply chains use slave labour.
The 26-year-old princess features in a video to promote the campaign. She talks about her visit to a Salvo safe house to see firsthand how the organisation helps those rescued from slavery to rebuild their lives.
Interviewed by Major Anne Read, theUK’s Salvation Army’s director of anti- trafficking and modern slavery, Princess Eugenie admits she was ‘astounded’ at their resilience.
“They were strong, happy—they had their moments, but they were loving life; they showed me how to grab life and appreciate things, and if they can do it after what they’ve been through, it’s a huge lesson,” she says.
But the princess says it was confront- ing to know that there were people living in slavery in her own neighbourhood.
“That was so shocking—when it’s on our own doorstep. I didn’t know the issue of slavery was within even a mile of where I’m living,” she says.
The princess is not alone. Research commissioned by The Salvation Army found that while 81% of adults acknowledge that modern slavery exists, 71% are not confident they could identify the signs of it taking place.
UK based Anti-Slavery International, which has campaigned for human rights since 1839, says slavery “continues today in one form or another in every country in the world”.
“From women forced into prostitution, children and adults forced to work in agri- culture, domestic work, or factories and sweatshops producing goods for global supply chains, entire families forced to work for nothing to pay off generational debts, or girls forced to marry older men, the illegal practice still blights the contem- porary world,” its website states.
The UN considers slavery the third most profitable criminal industry (behind drug and arms trafficking); however actual figures are hard to track.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 21 million people are trapped in forced labour and other forms of modern slavery. However, the Walk Free Foundation, founded by Australian business magnate Andrew Forrest, has released research through its 2016 global slavery index, estimating that almost 46 million people are living as slaves.
Forrest told the Guardian newspaper that while the steep increase in numbers was partly due to more accurate waysof gathering information, he believes the number of people trapped in slavery is increasing each year.This is borne out by the UK Salvation Army experience, which has seen an alarming rise in people being referred to them—from around 380 a year five years ago to 1,400 from January to July last year.
Forrest says he discovered and addressed slave labour in his own supply chains, and calls on consumers to be aware of who makes what they buy.
“We need to make it unacceptable for people to buy something without asking the company where it was made and who made it. If they can’t answer that ques- tion clearly then the next question must be ‘how do you know it wasn’t made with slave labour?’” he told the Guardian.
Major Read says the people supported out of slavery by The Salvation Army have been tricked, lied to, trapped, threatened, traded and abused.
“Frequently they arrive at a safe house with no belongings or documents, untreated health problems and injuries, often as a direct result of being trafficked, and are often extremely traumatised,” she says.
“We believe the public will want to help when they realise there are two very simple things they can do to make a change—learning to recognise the signs that something might be modern slavery and reporting it.
”Closer to home, through the Freedom Partnership, The Salvation Army runs the only supported accommodation service within Australia for individuals who have experienced human trafficking or slavery.
Jenny Stanger, Freedom Partnership national director and safe house manager, says there are an estimated 4,300 people enslaved in Australia today.
The safe house provides supported accommodation, case management and teaches survivors living skills, how to navigate legal and migration issues and assists them to overcome language, employment and education barriers.
“Our team helps survivors to make meaning out of the horror so that they can move beyond those experiences and not be forever defined by them,” Ms Stanger said.
It’s an overwhelming, worldwide problem, but one that Princess Eugenie says we can do something about.
“I think it’s everyone’s opportunity and duty to #askthequestion,” she says.