Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Fighting human trafficking in modern-day Scotland

There are more people in slavery today than at any point in history according to the United Nations.

And they are in our communities. In London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Dundee, trafficked people, bought, sold, coerced against their will are working in prostitution, domestic servitude and forced labour. Of them, 70 per cent are women.

But they are hidden in our communities. For fear of their own personal safety, security in their living space, their freedom to go out, move around, their documents, for fear of reprisals on their family back home, victims of trafficking won’t identify themselves to the authorities.

What can be done? In the Scottish parliament we have just set up a cross party group on human trafficking. Using the ten recommendations in Baroness Helena Kennedy’s report ‘Enquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland’, the cross party group is looking to advance these recommendations under three themes: raising awareness through training of frontline staff like paramedics, police, fire fighters, sexual health practitioners, nurses and GPs; passing better and more comprehensive legislation to properly define the crime of human trafficking; and improving victims’ services through a fairer, more accountable national referral mechanism.

Trafficking is a complex problem. It’s organised by international criminal gangs and there are high financial stakes. In the disturbing documentary on trafficking ‘The Nefarious Merchants of Souls’, a gang master tells the cameras that he can only sell a hit of drugs once, but he can sell the body of a trafficked woman time and time again and make a good profit each time he does.

So if it’s so complex and underground, what can local or national governments do? What can the Scottish government realistically do?

A very good start and my personal passion on this is to get human trafficking awareness training in place across Scotland, so that staff in our public services can be alerted to the signs of someone who may have been trafficked. At the moment, a trafficked person, a modern day slave, may come in and out of a doctor’s surgery and nobody is any the wiser as to the circumstances under which they were brought to this country and the lives they are leading here. For fear, they will not tell, so we have to get better at recognising them. The cross party group will meet in the Scottish parliament next month to hear what training is already taking place, and to try to chart a course of training across our public services.

Local government also has a role in my opinion. The next time a lap dancing club is up in front of the licensing committee, our councillors should be probing on the legality of the people working there before any licences are considered. It is a powerful local opportunity to try to probe exploitation in our community.

There is an encouraging amount of work that is already being done. I’ve been hugely impressed with the Soroptimists’ campaign to combat trafficking in our communities – the Purple Tear Drop Campaign . The Soroptimists turn out women in their scores to spread awareness on this issue and campaign for better victims’ services and training. Meetings in Dundee and Glasgow recently have been attended by many Soroptimists looking to join with other women to strengthen their campaign.

Crimestoppers is also at the forefront of the work with their leaflets in hospitals and libraries explaining trafficking and a helpline for victims.

But all of these efforts need political will and leadership from councils and governments to drive through legislative changes and commitment from law enforcement to expose the face of this modern day slavery in our communities.

Not many people would believe that the buying and selling of men, women and children still exists today and is alive in our communities. But like every exploitative and criminal industry it is well hidden and sophisticated in its practice. It is up to us to take the steps we can to reveal the face of trafficking and try to help rebuild the lives of those who have come to our country, live side by side with us in our towns and cities, but lead a brutal and parallel existence of coercion and fear.


Jenny Marra is a regional MSP for North East Scotland is a member of the justice committee and is the shadow minister for community safety and legal affairs


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Jenny Marra MSP

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