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General Synod holds vital discussion about modern slavery

1st March 2022 | Press/News release

The Clewer Initiative

From 8-10 February 2022, The General Synod, the national assembly of the Church of England, met to discuss issues as far-ranging as global persecution, changes to governance structures and legislation to help churches meet carbon reduction targets. It also gave unanimous backing to a call for the Government to ensure the protection of child survivors of trafficking.

The Clewer Initiative was delighted that Alistair Bianchi from Durham Diocese was able to present the motion, Challenging Slavery and Human Trafficking. Alistair gave a compelling introduction to the subject and the issues faced by a particular child that Durham diocese had supported.

‘Stephen’ (not his real name) had been trafficked to the UK from Vietnam aged 12, and put to work on a cannabis farm. Stephen had faced the risk of being deported back to Vietnam, where there was a strong chance of his being re-trafficked and persecution as a Christian convert. He had been sheltered by a vicar in the diocese, and the Bishop had petitioned the Government to have his deportation overturned. Stephen was at last given leave to remain but by sharing his story, Synod was able to understand some of the complexities surrounding child victims of modern slavery.

Mr Bianchi suggested that as it stands, the Nationality and Borders Bill puts minors in a “highly vulnerable position”. He challenged Synod to hold the Government to account and to keep encouraging churches to engage with the issues. The work of The Salvation Army and The Clewer Initiative was mentioned as particularly important in raising awareness and equipping parishioners to identify the signs of modern slavery.

An important amendment

Following Alistair Bianchi’s speech, the Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich, the Ven. Alastair Cutting (Southwark) stood up to support the motion and propose an amendment, amplifying the core message of the motion. Ven. Alastair Cutting's amendment spoke of the key role played by The Clewer Initiative, and encouraged the Government to take bold decisions. He urged the Church to keep prioritising awareness raising and training for clergy and volunteers. He mentioned The Clewer Initiative’s raft of resources and apps (the Safe Car Wash and Farm Work Welfare app), as well as the important work of other organisations.

On a number of occasions throughout the Debate, General Synod members spoke of how the work of The Clewer Initiative has increased their understanding of modern slavery and equipped them to identify and support victims.

Pioneering work in London

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, spoke in support of the amendment, sharing some of the modern slavery projects that are taking place in the Diocese of London. She referred, in particular, to pioneering victim support work led by Hestia and the Hidden Voices course which The Clewer Initiative is helping to facilitate.

This was followed by a moving speech from The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull who spoke about some of the inadequacies of the Nationality and Borders Bill and how it fails to understand the predicament faced by victims of modern slavery. She sought the support of General Synod in challenging the Bill in the House of Lords and lobbying the Government.

The final vote

The national assembly voted 331 to zero in favour on calling on the Government to “ensure the proper protection of minors who are trafficked and enslaved is enshrined in law” and implement “effective access to support, accommodation, work and education for victims of modern slavery”, as outlined by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton.

The General Synod Debate in full

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