Spreading the word about slavery in Wells

On Anti-Slavery Day 2017, Wednesday 18th October, The Clewer Initiative held three events in Wells Cathedral, in partnership with the Diocese of Bath and Wells. The events were designed to raise awareness of modern slavery amongst different sectors of the Wells community, drawing in GCSE students from Wells Cathedral school, local residents of Wells and the surrounding area, and civic and business leaders from across the diocese.

The schools event gave 70 school pupils an opportunity to hear about the current landscape of modern slavery in the UK. They heard from representatives of the Children’s Society, Amnesty International, and local charity Unchosen, who raise awareness of modern slavery through film. Bishop Ruth Worsley, the Bishop of Taunton, also addressed the group, telling a story of a woman she had met who she believed had been a victim of modern slavery.

The event concluded with a plenary from Bishop Alastair Redfern, the Bishop of Derby, who gave the young people an opportunity to ask any questions they had about modern slavery. One girl asked ‘what is the best thing we can do as ordinary citizens to end slavery?’. Bishop Alastair responded that asking questions is important – whether of retailers who sell suspiciously cheap goods, or businesses who don’t reveal their supply chain – so we can bring a greater transparency to the goods we buy.

The second event of the day saw Bishop Alastair meeting local residents who wanted to hear about the national picture of modern slavery. The Bishop spoke for half an hour on his role in the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and also about ‘the globalisation of indifference’. A phrase that originally came from Pope Francis, it illuminates what is now a common issue – indifference towards those around us. Tolerance has morphed into ignorance, which has become indifference. Now we not only don’t mind what our neighbours do, we also don’t care. Bishop Alastair encouraged those present to open their eyes to those who are hidden in plain sight, who may be being exploited in their community.

Finally, we welcomed local business and civic leaders to an evening reception in the Cloisters of Wells Cathedral, followed by talks from Bishop Alastair and Lys Ford, a Partnership Development Officer with the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority who investigate labour exploitation.

Bishop Alastair gave an overview of the problem, while Lys Ford was able to give a more detailed description of what labour exploitation looks like, and her experiences of investigating cases and speaking with victims. This was followed by a question and answer session with a panel including our two speakers, as well as Sian Turner from the National Crime Agency, and Kate Garbers from Bristol-based charity Unseen.

Those who attended were interested in hear about work going on in what is commonly called ‘source’ countries, the countries where victims come from, to prevent them from becoming exploited in the first place.

The day was a great opportunity to spread the word about modern slavery in Bath and Wells, and we look forward to our next lot of events on 15th November, when we will be meeting with sixth form students and local people to learn more about what modern slavery looks like in the Diocese of Bath and Wells. If you can't make it, follow us on twitter with the hashtag #BathWellsMS