This Father Was Trapped in Slavery in Scotland — Now He Has a Job With the Co-op
Frank* was promised a job and a home, but when he arrived in Britain he was met by a criminal gang.
Some 45 million people are trapped in modern slavery around the world, and it’s happening in the UK too. In 2017 alone, more than 5,000 potential victims of modern slavery were recorded in the country — up 35% from the year before.
One of these people is Frank*. Frank* first arrived in Glasgow in November 2014, having been promised a job and a home in Scotland by a childhood friend.
He had been struggling to find work in his home country, Romania, and wanted to be able to come to the UK to work and to support his young family. So he contacted the friend to see if they could help him.
But, as soon as he arrived, it became clear that something was wrong. He was met by a member of a criminal gang and taken to an address in the city. From there, and within just weeks of arriving in Scotland, Frank* was forced to open bank accounts for the gang under the threat of violence to him and his family.
He tried to escape his new life as a victim of modern slavery, but he found himself trapped.
Eventually, Frank* sold all of his belongings and was finally able to fund a deposit for a flat of his own with a reputable landlord. He contacted the police, and from there was put in touch with Migrant Help, a charity that assists victims of human trafficking in Scotland, and the organisation offered him support to get his life back on track.
Now, Frank* has become the first victim of modern slavery in Scotland to be offered a permanent job with the Co-op in the central belt of Scotland, thanks to the retailers’ innovative Bright Future employment scheme, created jointly with City Hearts.
And his wife and family have been able to join him at last in Scotland.
“Having heard Frank’s* harrowing story, I am proud that we have teamed up with Migrant Help to offer real, practical help to survivors of this evil crime,” said Paul Gerrard, the group policy and campaigns director at the Co-op.
“It is clear that victims need to be supported while they rebuild their lives and central to that is the dignity that paid, freely chosen employment provides,” Gerrard added. “Without this, there is a real chance that they could fall back into the hands of those who have exploited them.”
Phil Dailly, national operations director at Migrant Help, added: “Employment is a very important part of regaining self-confidence and a sense of independence for survivors of human trafficking. We know how keen our clients are to work and be able to support themselves and their families.”
Under the Bright Future scheme, which launched in April 2017, the Co-op provides survivors of human trafficking with a 4-week work placement, leading to a non-competitive job interview. If successful, and there is a position available, the candidate will then be offered a full-time job.
“I am very pleased that Frank* has been able to find genuine employment away from the clutches of human traffickers,” Scottish cabinet secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, told the Glasgow Evening Times. “The Scottish government is continuing to tackle this crime with tougher laws and alerting the public through our awareness campaign.”
And the ball is really rolling for the Bright Future scheme, with many more businesses signing up to it. It’s now believed that the scheme could create up to 300 placements like Frank’s* by 2020, with 15 British companies signed up as of September 2018.
Important debate on tackling #modernslavery led by @gareth_snell MP later today. @coopuk hoping that @ukhomeoffice will recognise that new legislation is needed to support victims - #freeforgoodhttps://t.co/LRWwy7YVNz— Co-op Campaigns Team (@coopukcampaigns) October 9, 2018
Other businesses that have joined include major retailer John Lewis, cosmetics company the Body Shop, and electrical firm Dixons Carphone.
“We think of slavery as something from the history books but it is happening in the UK at this very moment,” said Pippa Wicks, deputy CEO of the Co-op.
Phill Clayton, head of development at City Hearts added: “In over a decade of working with survivors of slavery, many are victims of horrendous and unspeakable crimes against their most basic human rights.”
“Knowing that businesses are rising up to make a difference, many more survivors will experience dignity, hope, and real transformation,” he added.
And Global Citizen has also joined forces with the Co-op, to help ensure modern slavery survivors in the UK get the support they need to take the next steps in rebuilding their lives.
Despite the thousands of people in slavery in Britain, our laws aren’t currently equipped to deal with the problem and, in England and Wales, victims are guaranteed just 45 days of support. While the government has promised to increase this, it’s not for long enough, and it leaves victims at risk of becoming homeless, or vulnerable to being re-trafficked.
The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill is hoping to change this and, if passed, it would require the government to provide a year of guaranteed support to victims — including a safe place to stay, access to medical treatment, mental health support, legal advice, training, and education.
This week, MPs debated the issue of modern slavery in the House of Commons, instigated by Labour Co-operative MP Gareth Snell.
“Behind every statistic, case, and referral there is an individual whose life has been turned upside down and torn apart because of modern slavery,” said Snell. “The Walk Free Foundation estimates that there are 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK alone. To put that into context, that figure is equivalent to the population of West Bromwich, Gloucester, or Worcester being enslaved in the UK.”
“We should all be worried about that, because unless we tackle this root and branch, we cannot hold ourselves up as a compassionate society,” he added.
“Everyone here and watching at home — I am sure there are millions of them — can be almost certain that something in their home, wardrobe, or car will have been made by a slave,” Snell continued. “Statistically, it is likely that at some point, every single one of us will have an item of clothing made by a slave, if we do not already.”
“We must take that very seriously, because our obligations do not rest domestically; we should set the standard around the world,” he said.
Snell called on the government to support the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which has been through the House of Lords and has its support, he said.
“If they guaranteed government support for that Bill so that it could proceed in government time sooner rather than later, I am sure that it would get cross-party support and be one of the fastest pieces of legislation to pass the House of Commons,” said Snell.
He added: “That Bill would extend support to 12 months — it would give people who have been through horrendous situations a year’s support. Someone who comes out of modern slavery and needs help should receive it because the state and the people want to give it to them, not because of benevolence and charity.”
*Names of those involved have been changed to protect their identity.