By Dave Hill for The Guardian on October 20, 2013—
“A report by a Conservative London Assembly member argues for more and better tackling of a largely hidden form of criminality and exploitation in all its forms.
Andrew Boff on the ubiquity of human trafficking:
Most London residents imagine that it does not touch directly on their lives – that the exploitation takes place in brothels run by foreign gangs controlling foreign women. But it’s nearer than they think.
If you have had an Irish or Eastern European traveller knocking on your door offering cut-price construction work, if you have had a manicure at a Vietnamese nail bar; if you have been to inexpensive Chinese and Indian restaurants or takeaways; passed by groups of men at mobile soup runs for the homeless; if you have taken cannabis; bumped into Latin American cleaning staff at London hotels; dealt with British or African children who play truant at school; if any of these circumstances are familiar to you, then you may well have seen or even indirectly been involved in the exploitation of a victim of “trafficking.”
Boff, who leads the London Assembly’s Conservative group, published his report on trafficking a week ago. It describes a “shadow city” within London in which several everyday strands of economy and lifestyle activity depend heavily on the victims of trafficking, which is itself a disparate and varied industry with UK as well as overseas origins.
One of the strengths of the report is that it uses a wider definition of trafficking than we are used to from most media coverage. As well as acknowledging trafficking’s part in London’s sex trade this definition also encompasses Latin American hotel workers, Vietnamese children working on cannabis farms, Nigerians brought in to lead lives of sometimes brutal domestic servitude, and the thousands who go missing from London children’s homes and are never found.
The report argues that much trafficking is not the work of highly-organised criminal gangs, but is informal and often conducted on a small scale, with trafficked and traffickers alike sometimes persuaded that a small, poor and frightened life in London is better than the one left behind. For these reasons, Boff concludes, it is essential that the authorities put more effort into identifying and solving the problem, and devise and tailor responses according to the form of trafficking involved. Part of the task is to build more bridges with some of London’s more self-contained ethnic minority groups.
Boff believes that amnesties should be extended to victims who are irregular migrants in order to encourage more disclosure of what appears to be a largely invisible form of criminal abuse. He tells me that he will meet with Boris Johnson’s policing deputy Stephen Greenhalgh to discuss the implications of the report soon. Reading it has already made me look at my city, its streets and its people differently. Your thoughtful comments always welcome.”
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