Every now and then the media pick up on the gruesome modern equivalent of the slave trade in Britain – Chinese cockle pickers drowning in Morecambe Bay, or squalid urban brothels enslaving young girls. The UK Human Trafficking Center (in Sheffield) report the referral of over 500 victims trafficked into Britain for forced labour or sexual exploitation, between April and December 2009. The overall number of victims here, on the basis of police and NGO estimates, is in the thousands. Human trafficking is a serious problem in Britain today.
In 2007, Home Secretary John Reid signed the European Convention on Human Trafficking – to mark the 200th anniversary of the banning of the slave trade – but the last government changed precious little in reality.
Britain needs to grip this problem, not brush it under the carpet. We need stronger border controls – a dedicated Border police force, and procedures for monitoring non-parental adults that enter the UK with a minor. We need a concerted attempt to prosecute the vicious gangs that slip between the cracks of our porous borders – the current conviction rate is pathetic, which sends a weak message to the perpetrators. And we need to help the victims, both as a matter of basic decency, but also to secure their cooperation in bringing prosecutions.
Today, I visited Body Shop in Walton who are teaming up with End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT UK), to raise awareness of this issue and promote a ‘guardianship’ scheme to help rehabilitate child victims of trafficking. I have raised the issue in the House of Commons – and will be trying to help build a cross-party consensus in favour of stamping out this modern equivalent of the slave trade.