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Church of England anti-slavery initiative wins government backing

Posted on: October 17, 2017 12:11 PM
Photo Credit: Ira Gelb / Flickr

The UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, has given her backing to the Church of England’s new anti-slavery programme. The Clewer Initiative was launched today at Lambeth Palace, the London home and headquarters of the Archbishop of Canterbury. “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime which destroys the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society,” Prime Minister May said. “I value the work that the Clewer Initiative will be doing to enable the Church of England dioceses and wider church networks to develop strategies to tackle modem slavery.”

She continued: “In particular, I welcome the focus on engaging with local communities to help them to spot the signs of modem slavery. We need to shine a light on this hidden crime and to encourage more victims to come forward so that we can provide them with the support they need.”

Before becoming Prime Minister in July last year, Theresa May was the UK’s Home Secretary and steered the Modern Slavery Act 2015 through Parliament. This Act introduced new tools for law enforcement officials to pursue criminals, created a statutory independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and increased the support available for victims.

“However, the Government cannot tackle this problem alone,” Mrs May said, “and this is why the efforts of organisations and groups such as the Clewer Initiative are so important.”

The scheme has also won the backing of the new Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, a former Detective Inspector who headed the Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Unit.

“Faith groups have influence, insight and rare avenues into the community,” he said, “they are therefore a powerful tool in the fight against modern slavery.

“The Church of England has acted on this unique ability by launching The Clewer Initiative, which adds backbone to the church’s anti-slavery approach. Clewer offers important knowledge to leaders of the church, parish members and the public.

“By informing those who are in a position to identify and support victims of this brutal crime, I am confident that the church is living up to its potential in defending the oppressed and overcoming injustice.”

The Anglican Alliance is working with the Church of England to mobilise a wider response to modern slavery throughout the Anglican Communion. Through this partnership, the C of E has been a regular participant in meetings of the Santa Marta Group, an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society in a process endorsed by Pope Francis to eradicate human trafficking and modern day slavery.

In February, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness Bartholomew of Constantinople pledged to fight modern slavery in its various forms. Earlier this month, Anglican leaders from around the world discussed this “crime against humanity” at the Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury. They committed themselves to addressing the issue “in our countries and across the globe”.

The Clewer Initiative is a three-year programme named after the Clewer Sisters, an Anglican religious order which was founded in the 19th century to help vulnerable, mainly young, women who found themselves homeless and drawn into the “sex trade”.

Today’s launch at Lambeth Palace is bringing together representatives from C of E dioceses, other denominations and charities working to combat modern slavery and Members of Parliament.

“Jesus came saying that he proclaimed freedom for captives,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said in a video message to the attendees. “Freedom is something that we take for granted, but it is the gift of God, it is the purpose of God. Those who purposefully constrain, confine and traffic and enslave people will face the judgement of God for their terrible sins.

“Yet even more serious is when we choose not to see: when, as it were, we put on our own blindfolds and don’t see those around us who are held in slavery, oppressed, trafficked, in other peoples’ power.

“But we can change it – we can change it so easily, so quickly. We can set people free, set our society and nation free from the scourge of slavery simply by removing our blindfolds and acting on what we see.”

Part of the initiative is to provide training and information in dioceses on how to provide support and identify victims of labour exploitation in areas from the construction and property sector to hand car washes in British cities and shipping.

A number of dioceses are already signed up – Bath and Wells, Chester, Derby, Durham, Guildford, Lichfield, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Rochester, and Southwell and Nottingham – and a further 14 are due to participate later this year.

One of the first dioceses to be involved is Derby. The diocese has become a key member of the Derby and Derbyshire Modern Slavery Partnership, which brings together police and social services to help victims. The Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, is recognised as a leading campaigner against modern-slavery; and has been appointed to chair the Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s advisory panel. “Modern slavery is present in nearly every community in England and will continue to flourish if we remain indifferent to it,” Dr Redfern said.

“Churches can provide a space to gather of goodness and grace, with an open agenda where different groups can meet to discuss how they work together to support victims, and to improve efforts for rescue and prevention.

“We can also act as ‘eyes and ears’ in our communities to help identify victims. Our work in the Clewer Initiative will build on the passion of churches to be with people, to contribute to more effective structures, and to go the extra mile for the sake of those who are suffering.”

Earlier this month, the Diocese of Portsmouth, which is based around England’s historic south-coast harbour, docks and port, held a training session with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority – the statutory body that protects vulnerable and exploited workers in a number of regulated sectors, including the processing and packaging of fresh food, drinks and other produce, agriculture, horticulture and shellfish gathering.

The training, which was organised as part of the Clewer Initiative, focused particularly on spotting the signs of modern slavery in the shipping industry. “Many of those attending were from agencies or organisations working in and around the harbour,” the Clewer Initiative said. “Faith charities Mission to Seafarers and Apostleship of the Sea were both in attendance, alongside secular charity Human Rights at Sea, and the International Transport Workers Federation. Officers from the police joined colleagues from the National Crime Agency, and other government bodies such as the Ministry for Transport.

“Over lunch the delegates swapped stories of ships they had been on where something just didn’t seem right, or where the exploitation was obvious but they hadn’t known what to do. Several mentioned that the lunch was helpful for making connections with other people in the sector they hadn’t met previously.”

Later this month, the Clewer Initiative will hold a training day in the central London to help people to spot the signs of labour exploitation in hand car washes and how to report cases and support victims.

“Over the last 15 years Britain’s informal Hand Car Wash industry has grown hugely - it now provides for over 70 per cent of all car washes,” the initiative said. “It is estimated that of the 18,500 car washes in the UK today, only 7,000 or 38 per cent of the total are provided by the formal sector.

“The levels of labour exploitation in the industry are currently unknown. It is important not to assume that all hand car washes are illegitimate. However, police raids of hand car washes across the country have surfaced many instances of labour exploitation and modern slavery and anecdotal data suggests that abuse – both of people and the environment – is widespread.”

Modern slavery and human trafficking will be a significant item on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which will bring together leaders of 52 nations in London next April. The leaders will discuss ways to “eradicate forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and the worst forms of child labour.” Yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that he has appointed Canon Flora Winfield as his special representative to the Commonwealth.