Mobilizing communities to help end modern slavery

By Fiona Stevenson, Previous Member of the Rotary Club of Tenterden, United Kingdom

In the face of overwhelming slavery and human trafficking statistics, it can perhaps be difficult to know where to begin to help.  A few people in the city of Canterbury, United Kingdom have found a way of addressing modern-day slavery in Kent, United Kingdom that I believe could be replicated in many other places throughout the Rotary world.

This group of people first spent time meeting with various organizations, including the police, safe houses, and Stop the Traffik, a human trafficking prevention organization, before forming into a community group called Stop the Traffik Kent.

Dr. Cheryl Mvula, the group’s leader says, “We decided our focus should be on raising awareness around modern day slavery in our local community. Through research, we discovered the most prevalent types of exploitation in Kent. They are: fruit farms and agriculture, car washes, the sex industry, nail bars, Indian and Chinese takeaways and restaurants, the construction industry, and domestic servitude. We aimed to share this information with people to engage them in conversation about how they could help.”

The way they went about spreading awareness is brilliantly simple. Every month they go into a busy shopping area with uniformed police officers, and dress up as if they are caught in those kinds of exploitation. Some members tape over their mouths to represent how victims of human trafficking are silenced and ignored. Others hold placards that demand to be seen, appealing to those passing by with a simple question: “Can you see me?” When people are intrigued about why some are carrying a bucket and a sponge (representing those exploited as hand car washers), or a fruit basket (representing those exploited as fruit pickers), they speak to them about modern slavery. The group also distributes wallet-sized leaflet with instructions on how they can spot the signs.

Stop the Traffik Kent is now part of the Kent and Essex Police Anti-Slavery Partnership Group which meets bi-monthly to share information and initiatives. The goal is that the research and awareness that members of the Partnership Group undertake will enable the police to carry out more rescues and achieve more convictions.

How clubs can replicate this initiative:

  • Coordinate with local police/law enforcement, agencies that assist survivors of trafficking and community groups to assist with research into modern-day slavery and human trafficking in your area.
  • Convene a working group of stakeholders to create a list of action items to report instances of exploitation or connect survivors to needed services.
  • Working with appropriate stakeholders and community members, arrange an awareness campaign or event.
  • Create and distribute marketing materials such as flyers and posters to display – aimed both at potential victims and the general public.
  • Share posters with local businesses and organizations to display at their institutions.

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Learn more on how you can take action to combat modern day slavery by connecting with the Rotarian Action Group Against Slavery.

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