Coronavirus Exposed Modern Day Slavery Trade in the UK, Says Former Tory Leader

An Indian labourer sews patterns at the April Cornell clothing factory in Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi on October 16, 2012. The April Cornell company exports 50 percent of their clothing and linen production to the USA and Canada, and the rest to European Union countries. India's industrial …
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

The former leader of the Conservative Party, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, said that the Chinese coronavirus exposed the scourge of modern-day slavery in the Labour Party stronghold of Leicester and other locations throughout the United Kingdom.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) released a report on Saturday, entitled Parallel societies: slavery, exploitation and criminal subculture in Leicester, which detailed the breadth of the slave economy in Leicester’s fast-fashion factories.

The CSJ report estimated that nearly 200 years after Britain abolished slavery, some 100,000 people across the UK are victims of the modern slave trade, with young women being forced into sexual slavery and young men bound into forced labour.

According to the study, those most likely to fall “prey to unscrupulous traffickers” are people in poverty, migrants, women who are victims of domestic abuse, and children from disadvantaged families.

Responding to the report, Sir Iain Duncan Smith wrote in The Telegraph that while the illegal boat migrant crisis in the English Channel is grabbing headlines, the government must also make a concerted effort to stamp out the slavery that results from the people-smuggling trade.

“A significant and well-organised network of gangs brings people into this country by different methods, including illegal passports. But the gangs don’t just go away when the migrants land in the UK. Too many migrants are then forced into slavery in disgusting conditions,” Sir Iain wrote.

“This criminal network is creating one of the pull factors that bring migrants to our shores. They used to smuggle drugs and alcohol, but now smuggle and exploit vulnerable migrants — a much lower risk. After all, a journey from Vietnam, for example, would cost a migrant £10,000 to £35,000 and, managed via social media channels, these trafficked individuals end up in this sub-society, in illegal factories, the sex trade and even growing cannabis,” the former Tory leader explained.

Sir Iain went on to say that it took a spike in the Chinese coronavirus in Leicester for the true scale of the modern slave trade to be exposed. Workers in the fashion industry have been coming forward to decry their vulnerability to the virus as a result of the close quarters they are expected to work in.

“We must act now. The scale of this is enormous and won’t be solved just by stopping the boats. We have to go after the criminals, no matter who they are and despite any cultural sensitivities while rooting out corruption in official circles wherever it exists. Businesses that benefit must be held to account for their supply chains, too,” Duncan Smith urged.

“It shouldn’t take a surge in COVID 19 to alert us to what has been going on. From now on, ignorance must no longer be an excuse,” Sir Iain concluded.

In July, reports suggested that British police failed to take on the practice out of fears that they would be accused of racism, as the majority of slave trade victims are of South Asian descent. The refusal by police and local leaders to act due to such fears mirrors how police overlooked largely Pakistani grooming gangs in the North of England for decades.

Raj Mann, the police contact for Leicester’s Sikh community, said: “The local authorities have known these sweatshops exist for decades, but they’ve been loath to do anything about it for fear of being accused of picking on immigrant or refugee communities, as a lot of the exploited workers are of Indian background.”

“Within the Asian community, people generally turn a blind eye to workers in the community who are on less than the minimum wage. They see it as being better than earning nothing at all,” he added.

Follow Kurt on Twitter at @KurtZindulka


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