Empowering people at risk of modern slavery

We know that vulnerably housed and homeless people are at risk of modern slavery, as Charlie’s Story so eloquently shows us. But how do we help people protect themselves?

Our project lead in the Diocese of Lichfield, James Henderson, recently worked with the West Midlands branch of the Big Issue to deliver a modern slavery training to a group of their sellers. We found out how it went from James.

We know Katie quite well who works for the Big Issue. She came to one of our Cash Smart: Credit Savvy training sessions along with her colleague Gabi where we discussed doing a session on modern slavery for the Big Issue vendors. I worked with Katie and Big Issue Service Broker Gabi, who also kindly acted as our translator. It was a real bit of co-production, adapting The Clewer Initiative’s Resources to fit the audience.

We had about seven sellers who came. All but one was attending English classes at the Big Issue, to improve their language skills. They’re not really used to having any kind of formal teaching, and most of them hadn’t gone to school. We had translated the written materials, but it was the verbal translation that really helped. That was the key, and everything else hung on that.

I was trying to get them to participate as much as I could. They were a very vocal audience, and I encouraged questions and feedback. Gabi was translating to Romanian but there were a few people there who didn’t speak Romanian, so someone else was translating for them. In the end we had three different languages going on.

There’s such a volume of information about modern slavery, so we had to really narrow down what we said. We talked about what slavery was, how people are recruited, and forced criminality. We also explored quite a lot about UK worker’s rights, as well as what they should expect if they are offered a legitimate job. We had some interesting conversations about labour in the Bible which I wasn’t quite expecting!

I think one of the best bits was we used a short cartoon video produced by the International Labour Organisation. It features a guy going to work on a building site. His wife’s pregnant and he thinks it’s a really good job but it ends up being a forced labour situation. We watched it once and then we watched it again, stopping it at various points and talking about different aspects.

For example when they show his pregnant wife I said ’you know he is desperate for money because his wife’s pregnant, that makes him more likely to take any job he can get’. That was probably the best bit because it reinforced things that we talked about later on but put them in a story. And because there was no speaking, it was universal. It was also a scenario that they could easily find themselves in.

I talked a lot about how if I were a trafficker I wouldn’t be bothered about them, I’d just be bothered about money. It was hard to tell if any of them had been in an exploitative situation themselves. I think that they quite possibly may have been. There was one lovely guy who came over at the end and he was so desperate to work. You could just see how he could be totally taken advantage of, just through his desire to work and provide for his family. He didn’t really know his rights, and he had a low level of English.

We also spoke about them being the eyes and ears in the community, because they’re out on the street all the time, so they could be looking out for modern slavery.

If I did it again I would cut a few bits out I think, and try and make it as short as possible. They were definitely ready to go after an hour, but they all managed and apparently they came out buzzing, and saying they thought other people should have it. So that sounds like a success to me!

Katie Moreton, Gabi Sima and Susannah Wilson – Big Issue Birmingham: It was a real pleasure to have this valuable presentation about modern slavery delivered to some of the Big Issue vendors. We recognise the importance of working with them to give them tools and knowledge of what to look out for in keeping themselves safe and looking out for signs in the community. As James mentioned it was real team work with resources from The Clewer Initiative, translations from Gabi, and even from the vendors. We had lots of great feedback from the vendors, which we felt was extremely positive as this was the first presentation on modern slavery for vendors that has been delivered. At times it can be hard to reach the Romanian Roma community and we are in a privileged position where we have built rapport, relationships and trust and I am sure they will share this new information from the presentation within their communities. One vendor even said that he will speak with the pastor from his church to spread this information within the church.

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