NJPN Open Networking Day: 23rd September 2017

NJPN members hear from Mick Duthie Deputy Director of the Santa Marta Group, on modern slavery.

At this September’s networking day, held in London, special guest, Mick Duthie, talked to us about the work of the Santa Marta Group, which works to eradicate slavery in the UK, by creating a network of bishops, police chiefs and civil society. After introducing himself as a retired policeman, he says, ‘Slavery didn’t end with Wilberforce’. We learn that 48 million people are enslaved around the world.

The SMG links the Catholic Church with police and local residents to work with victims of slavery and human trafficking. In the UK modern slavery was commonly associated with trafficked women working in brothels. The victims were not supported well enough by the police, would be rescued but then just left isolated and helpless. Now the gender mix is 50:50, with lots of youngsters in forced labour. Slavery is present in services that we see around us such as car washes, nail bars, companies that lay driveways. Out of sight, far from big cities, are enslaved workers in fisheries and agriculture. The rise in numbers Mick Duthie says is down to increased awareness and reporting, but also economic conditions, as it grows harder and things grow more expensive, wages are the most expensive thing for any business.

The stated priority of SMG is to support the victims. But Mick Duthie’s priority is also stamping out slavery as a criminal activity, because of its links with organized crime. There are currently concerns that cleaning services in schools have been infiltrated. There was some discussion about the conditions which have given rise to increasing numbers of victims of slavery, such as economic conditions here and in the countries of origin, where vulnerable people are forced to take desperate measures to support their families. There was some discussion on whether modern slavery could be considered to be at the one end of the spectrum that also contains zero hours contracts, Sports Direct, Uber drivers and Deliveroo, even if in these cases the workers are free to leave and not indebted.

Following the morning meeting a group of us set out towards Waterloo roundabout, over Westminster Bridge, and queued outside Westminster Abbey for evensong commemoration of the birth of Blessed Oscar Romero. Romero is the patron of NJPN which was among many organisations such as Pax Christi, Tear Fund, Housing Justice formally represented.

The service began with a recording of Archbishop Romero speaking in a homily, in which he addresses the army and the police, ‘Brothers and sisters, you are part of our own people.’

In his sermon, Rowan Williams reminded us of Romero’s words on poverty and possessions. Everything we own we have borrowed from the poor, we are in debt to the poor.  Resonating very well with our morning session, he spoke of Romero’s words on slavery, that God wants, ‘liberation to reach everywhere so that no slavery exists in the world. No person should be the slave of another.’ 

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