In this guest blog for FLEX, Naeema Ahmed (MBA), Network Manager for the UK BME Anti-Slavery Network (BASNET), highlights the particular vulnerabilities faced by victims and survivors of trafficking from ethnic minority communities and BASNET’s work to create a UK Race Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan for the anti-trafficking sector to better respond to their needs and experiences.
In the UK, many victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are either from different ethnic minority communities or from a foreign country. These victims and survivors face particular vulnerabilities and challenges in their exploitation ordeal. Their exploitation challenges are informed by culture and customs, religion and tradition and, in many cases, language barriers and literacy. These culture-based dynamics can compound the trafficking experiences of victims or survivors, especially women, girls and LGBTQI individuals. 2021 research by Rights Lab indicated that ‘the dynamics of modern slavery and transnational trafficking from the different source countries, and particularly key risks and vulnerabilities may not be fully accounted for in UK decision making’. There are also structural factors such as insecure immigration status, discrimination by authorities and lack of options including secure reporting which also increases the vulnerability of victims. The lack of understanding of these dynamics allow perpetrators to create and exploit vulnerabilities despite our collective efforts in supporting victims from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The UK BME Anti-Slavery Network (BASNET) recognises that those who research, design, and decide anti-slavery and anti-trafficking policies and service provision are usually from white British backgrounds and as such their decision-making, which more often than not excludes knowledge of the above dynamics directly and/or unconsciously, does more harm than good to victims and survivors. The nuances of race equality, diversity and inclusion to a greater extent borders on cultural awareness and intelligence in understanding and believing the journeys and experiences of victims and in safeguarding the lives of vulnerable individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds. It also borders on the effective engagement of affected communities and individuals towards the fight against this crime.
In 2021, BASNET developed and designed the UK Race Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan for the UK Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking sector – the first of its kind in the UK or any other Western country. The document explores numerous issues based on the recognition that many communities who bear the impact of human trafficking and modern slavery in different parts of the country are often marginalised and excluded in efforts to address the problem. Most significant to the issues raised is the recognition that very few Black and Minority Ethnic-led charities are seen round policy and decision-making tables which gives the impression that these communities are totally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
The Action plan was developed by a nine-member working group chaired by the CEO of AFRUCA and Founder of BASNET – Debbie Ariyo OBE. Members of the working group were drawn from across the modern slavery and human trafficking sector including policy development, academia, health, law, advocacy and safeguarding. They were supported by BASNET’s Survivors Panel who brought to the working group their lived experiences and knowledge.
The Action Plan highlights the fact that NRM statistics do not present data by race, nationality or ethnicity, emphasising that there is great complexity underneath the data that needs to be examined. Our view at BASNET is that having such data will help prevent as well as to tackle anti-slavery issues especially within the UK. Hence, the Action Plan recommends that the Home Office should collate and monitor data on nationality, race/ethnicity to understand the impact on victims and survivors across the whole spectrum of the NRM process from initial referral by first responders to when victims/survivors exit the NRM.
Additionally, the BASNET Action Plan decries the over-representation of Black children with learning disabilities (Autism and ADHD) in County Lines Trafficking and Exploitation and calls for more efforts to engage affected communities to tackle this important issue through the establishment of a Working Group with key representation from affected communities, faith leaders and statutory experts. The Working Group will develop and inform the implementation of a National Action Plan to Tackle County Lines Trafficking as part of the government’s Modern Slavery strategy.
The lack of any independent or external proactive mechanisms for modern slavery and human trafficking victims/ survivors in the legal system to escalate complaints of malpractices, racism and discrimination by legal practitioners is a cause for concern, and the Plan identifies steps to take to address this anomaly. This includes the recommendation that the Ministry of Justice should establish an Independent Panel/Ombudsman to address survivors’/victims’ complaints of racism, other equality and malpractices by legal practitioners.
Perhaps for the first time in our sector, the key issue of the vulnerabilities of the BME LGBTQI community to modern slavery and human trafficking and the lack of sector response was raised by BASNET in the Action Plan. As a consequence, we organised two major, sector-wide events in partnership with BASNET members House of Rainbow and African Rainbow Family whose organisations work directly with LGBTQI modern slavery survivors and asylum seekers. The events and their reports shared some very significant recommendations. These include the need for ongoing awareness-raising on the vulnerabilities of LGBTQI individuals to modern slavery and the importance of creating a safe mechanism for LGBTQI individuals to report cases of modern slavery without being criminalised. Other relevant issues and recommendations include the focus on training for practitioners on understanding LGBTQI victims of modern slavery, spotting the signs, understanding the cultural nuances and trends impacting vulnerabilities to modern slavery. We believe these recommendations will form the bedrock of any policy and service design and approaches to tackling modern slavery and human trafficking in the LGBTQI community.
As a network, BASNET presents an opportunity to understand the UK modern slavery sector from the perspective of race equality, inclusion, representation and the experiences of survivors and grass-root organisations that have a direct link with and the knowledge and expertise of affected communities. Hence, it involves a strong focus on partnership working with others in the modern slavery sector to ensure that the sector is more diverse and inclusive as we collectively work towards ending modern slavery and human trafficking.
For more information on BASNET and the race EDI action plan, visit www.bmeantislavery.org.