Recent figures from the Salvation Army suggest that my own region, the South East, has a major problem with human trafficking. Over the three years covered by its recent reports, no less than 849 people were referred to its services from the Salvation Army’s South East and South regions (covering essentially the South East European Parliamentary constituency, plus London). And that is only the lucky ones who were discovered by police, local authorities or other bodies. While the National Crime Agency has estimated that there were 2,744 people in the UK who had been trafficked between 2012-13, others have suggested the true figure is likely to be much higher.
Victims are trafficked for the purposes of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. While, sadly, there is evidence of British citizens being trafficked, the largest groups of victims mentioned in the Salvation Army report were women from Albania and Nigeria, and men from Hungary, Romania and Lithuania.
So what can be done to stop this unpleasant ‘trade’ in human beings? Recognising the fact that people are often, if not always, trafficked across countries, many actions have been taken at European level. A 2011 European Directive set out what European countries needed to do to protect and support victims of trafficking, as well as ways to better deal with its perpetrators. Although the UK government initially declined to participate in this Directive, after pressure from campaigners it signed up. In addition, earlier this year, the Labour MEP Mary Honeyball, released a report on ‘Sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality’, which suggested a number of measures which could be taken to reduce demand for trafficked women and children by criminalising the buying of ‘sexual services’.
Nonetheless, it is clear that a multi-pronged attack is needed, which includes better support for the victims of trafficking, tougher penalties for traffickers and those who knowingly benefit from trafficked labour, and quicker and more thorough identification of the victims of trafficking.
As a result, I was delighted to hear about the launch a few days ago of the COMBAT project. This project is coordinated by Oxford Brookes University, but has links with organisations from right across the EU. It innovatively focuses on those who provide the routes along which trafficked people pass − the hospitality and tourism industry.
The project aims to create a toolkit which will help businesses to identify when their services are being used for trafficking, and how they can act to deter and ultimately prevent this in the future. Specifically, it will provide companies like hotels, travel agencies and airlines with the information and practical advice they need to counter this version of modern slavery.
No reputable tourism business would want to be involved in trafficking- indeed, I fully believe that the vast majority would be appalled to find out their services were being used in this way- yet clearly, many are currently being used by traffickers. This project should help empower businesses to reject this very dirty ‘trade’ in human beings.
− Anneliese Dodds, Labour MEP for the South East of England