“Leicester has been in the national news a lot recently. It was the first city in England to go into local lockdown, and, more significantly, it was recognised that the spread of the virus had been accelerated by conditions in local textile factories.
“It had been common knowledge in the city that Leicester is one of the worst cities in Europe for exploitation of workers and the authorities had been striving to address this problem for a long time. This publicity gave them the opportunity to act. It also brought recognition of the hard working, but small, team of dedicated police officers who have received 223 reports of slavery and human trafficking in the past twelve months.
“In the ensuing inspection, no cases of slavery were discovered but several factories were closed for safety reasons and the public was made aware of the problem. The publicity also brought the problem to the attention of several prominent retailers, forcing them to review their supply chains, which are long and complicated.
“In response to the concerns, Crimestoppers launched a campaign in November raising awareness in the garment factories and amongst the general public. The Police have also launched a campaign to teach parents how to spot signs that children are being targeted by criminal gangs. Agencies have been working with 178 children since the beginning of 2020.
“The diocese had intended to feature slavery at the Diocesan Synod in May but this was delayed until September when we presented the Hidden Voices material, comprising of stories, facts and an account from a vicar of a church situated in the heart of Leicester’s textile quarter. This was followed up, immediately, by a mailing to every parish with information, a prayer leaflet, contact details and a Clewer Initiative poster. The timing of this meant that it arrived in time for Anti-Slavery Day in October.
“In September, we launched a new team called CLLAMS – Christians in Leicester and Leicestershire Against Modern Slavery. This is an exciting development.
“The Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Modern Day Slavery Action Group is now two years old. It was established in response to concerns from the Police and operates on two levels. Members of ‘front line’ services and agencies such as the Police, NHS, Factory Inspectors, Border Force etc. who are likely to meet victims in the course of their work form one meeting and, representatives of interested groups like churches, charities and local government make the second. The networking that this group has created is proving invaluable. Last year, we created ‘pop-up’ publicity events throughout the city and both counties. This year, we had hoped to think about how we can raise awareness about the prevalence of modern slavery amongst other faith groups. Due to the Covid 19 crisis, we have not done as much as we hoped to do, so the campaign will continue.”