The tireless work of Croydon Community Against Trafficking – and how you can help

By - Thursday 10th August, 2017

Modern slavery is still a terrible, pernicious presence – even in Croydon and surrounding areas

Slavery. It’s a compelling word, undoubtedly eliciting a response and conjuring images of a particularly malevolent chapter in human history. The term ‘history’ is misleading in this case; people mistakenly believe slavery is confined to the annals of history. It is not. It has adroitly followed us into the 21st century. Modern slavery is very much present, hidden, here and worryingly local.

Unfortunately, many people’s views of slavery and trafficking are ensconced in narratives around immigration, prejudicing their views to the plight of victims. The figures paint a dire picture: estimates of people enslaved today range from 28 million to 45 million globally. This arcane practice persists here too; the government estimates that there are 13,000 slaves in the UK today, with sexual exploitation and forced labour leading the way. But the consensus across charities is that these figures are a gross underestimate.

Around 25% of those trafficked are children, brought into the country by horrendous means

Around 25% of people trafficked into the UK are children, with exploiters finding innovative and increasingly horrendous ways of bringing them into the country. Children have been enslaved in the UK for the purposes of labour, such as working in agriculture, domestic servitude, cannabis harvesting, sexual exploitation and organ removal. Their journey is not over when they are discovered, either, as survivors – both adult and children – have been subjected to years of intimidation, threats and torment; it hinders communication and recovery.

Victims hail from 106 countries, the main countries of origin being Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, China and Romania, with 51% being female and 49% male. According to Eurostat (2015), almost 3,855 convictions were reported from 8,805 prosecutions in the EU. Sixty-nine per cent of the traffickers were EU citizens.

Many of us are woefully unaware that this is happening down the street from us

The hidden nature of this crime means many of us are woefully unaware that it may be happening down the street from us. Croydon Community Against Trafficking (CCAT) formed as a response to this when a group of residents were horrified to learn Croydon was a key hub for trafficking in the UK, with over 100 brothels operating and with trafficked women being coerced into a life of degradation and sexual abuse.

Slavery and trafficking go beyond sexual exploitation. Practices of domestic servitude, forced labour and organ harvesting fall under the ambit of these terms. Together they form the third largest and most profitable crime industry on the planet, next to drug trafficking and the arms trade. The effective commodifying of people, this large-scale transportation of adults and children for the purposes of profit and exploitation in this century surely ought to incite a response.

The work of CCAT focuses on disrupting the activities of traffickers and slavers locally. Our intelligence-gathering team has unearthed brothels, car washes and dubious addresses as sites for slavery in Croydon. CCAT runs a schools and college campaign to mitigate vulnerability of our young people, and as part of our community outreach we provide information workshops to companies, places of worship and community-based organisations. We undertake advocacy work and network with key charities, government figures and the police to ensure modern slavery stays on the policy agenda.

Exploitation can happen in seemingly ‘normal’ places – nail bars, restaurants, private homes

A snapshot of slavery in the UK and research by CCAT reveals practises of labour exploitation and servitude happen in seemingly ‘normal’ places – from nail bars, building sites, restaurants to private homes. We come into contact with slavery every day; through our smartphones, the palm oil in our food, seafood in supermarkets, chocolates we readily consume – it is also stitched into our clothing, the aroma of our morning coffees, dusted into our cosmetics and it constructs some of the buildings and stadiums we frequent. The imprint of slavery is borne by all these industries. Slavery permeates our everyday lives and we unwittingly participate in this process through the supply chain as consumers.

My work across the sector has culminated in working with several anti-human-trafficking and modern-slavery projects in a front-line capacity. This involved supporting and advocating for survivors who have no other recourse. During the course of my work, I came across women kept in domestic servitude in affluent postcodes across London, subjected to 20-hour work days and rape; children who had been sold into bonded labour, experienced torture and forced to work on cannabis farms in residential areas of the UK; women and girls who had been trafficked across Europe for sexual exploitation, finding themselves forced to work in brothels on busy London high streets. These people are real and they’re here. They’ve suffered horrific ordeals across the world before coming into the UK, and are effectively being exploited in our communities and neighbourhoods. The UK has some outstanding anti-slavery projects that support and aid victims, empowering them to transition into survivors; they fight tirelessly to ensure that the issue is not forgotten in the corridors of power. Modern slavery is driven by profit, taking advantage of socio-political factors, poor social infrastructures in parts of the world and economic deprivation. Traffickers target easy prey, taking advantage of people’s vulnerability and desperation, luring them with dreams of prosperity and opportunity, only to sell them into an unimaginable nightmare.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is the first legislation of its kind across the world

The government, unable to ignore the extent of modern slavery in the UK, responded by enacting the landmark Modern Slavery Act in 2015, the first legislation of this kind across the world. The Act encapsulates the various forms of slavery and trafficking under the umbrella term of modern slavery. It also imposes a life sentence for slavers, as well as provisions for reparations for victims.

People often ask why survivors do not testify against their captors: the answer is ‘fear’. They fear being criminalised (something the Act seeks to address), persecuted, deported, and even being killed. The law is explicit in that any crimes survivors are forced to commit during the course of captivity will be disregarded; this is crucial, as much of the fear of survivors is being subjected to the criminal justice system through no fault of their own. The Act focuses heavily on prosecution and bringing slavers and traffickers to justice; time will tell the impact this piece of legislation will have on prosecution figures.

Another advancement to help in the fight against modern slavery was the establishment of a UK-wide Modern Slavery Helpline, launched in 2016 by cross-sectoral stakeholders. This is a free 24-hour helpline for reporting and facilitates intelligence gathering. The UK has also ratified the Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings; this regulates the support and services that are available to victims of modern slavery. It is a comprehensive compendium of human rights and victim-centred support. On a legislative level, the right steps seem to have been taken – however, the numbers of slaves on the ground continue to swell.

Modern slavery is never too far from us

Trafficking is never too far from us. This can be illustrated through one of our long-standing volunteers at CCAT, who was subjected to a trafficking experience several years ago. She was educated at a prestigious university, trained to be a teacher and went on to work at a local high school. An acquaintance approached her to work as a private tutor for a family in Abuja, Nigeria. She had been thinking of exploring alternative career opportunities and felt this would be a good transition and provide an opportunity to work in a part of the world she had studied. However, on her arrival, the family insisted on taking her passport and visa. She was informed she could not travel outside of their grounds without being accompanied, and was not permitted to use the phone. She realised quite quickly that this was not the opportunity she had sought; she also learned that the family had dubious dealings and business practices. She escaped what could have been a start of a gruesome ordeal, due to her own family’s persistence in trying to contact her. This came from awareness and understanding of different types of exploitation, and raising the alarm when something feels irregular. Our volunteer’s attempts to contact the lady in the UK who had recommended her to the family have come to nothing. Again, this serves to demonstrate that traffickers are seemingly normal people who interact with us – whilst simultaneously acting as recruiters or slavers.

A problem as endemic as slavery cannot be abolished without the help of local communities and public awareness on a regional scale. We believe traffickers are operating in Croydon, and we would urge residents to report anything suspicious to the local police; the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700; or contact CCAT for advice. Please visit our website for information on spotting the signs of modern slavery and for reporting procedures.

CCAT are launching a community campaigners’ programme, and are seeking volunteers and supporters especially within Croydon to support us. If you would like more information about our work, or to discuss how you can join the fight against modern slavery in Croydon, please get in touch with Saima Raza on

Saima Raza

Saima Raza

Saima Raza is currently Manager at Croydon Community Against Trafficking (CCAT). Following her studies in International Law and Human Rights in the Developing World, she went on to work in the voluntary sector with UK-based and international charities. She has a strong interest in global migrant justice, the environment, support provision for vulnerable groups and campaigning against modern slavery.

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