Anti-Slavery day: Interview with David Maggs from The Clewer Initiative

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This time last year, Together in Sussex, in partnership with The Roman Catholic Diocese Of Arundel & Brighton commissioned over 20 ambassadors to disseminate information and “fight modern-day slavery”, as commented by Revd Martin Poole, trustee of Together in Sussex.

Our ambassadors have done fantastic work this year, however, many of us are still unaware that modern slavery is active in our communities. So, as part of their work, they have organised The Clewer Initiative to host a 4 series course in Shoreham, called ‘Hidden Voices', starting next month. This will be led by David Maggs, Network and Development Officer of The Clewer Initiative.

We asked David a few questions to better understand modern-day slavery and the work of The Clewer Initiative.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is a crime present in every single community in the UK,” Explained David. “The term encompasses many different forms of exploitation, including sexual, labour, domestic servitude, and exploitation to commit criminal activity.”

How do people end up as modern slaves?

Victims are forced, coerced or deceived into exploitation and often cannot escape. This can be through the threat of violence, fear of the authorities, or having nowhere to go for help.”

Some victims are held under debt bondage where numerous ‘charges’ are made to cover accommodation, transport, and food, with such high-interest rates that people can never pay off their debt.” As he continued, the situation seemed to grow even bleaker. “There’s even a significant issue on a global level around the forced removal of organs for sale, but there have only been a few reported cases in the UK.”

What makes you so passionate about modern slavery?

I see modern slavery as one of the greatest global crimes it is very profitable, and second only in profits to armaments in terms of illegal crimes. More shockingly, it is often linked to severe violence including sexual violence.”

I have always sought to work with the most marginalized people in society.” Said David, as he opened up on his attachment to this cause. “Modern slavery often affects the most vulnerable in society, such as the homeless, victims of human trafficking, and even young people expelled from school with nowhere else to turn.”

After working a modern slavery project in Somerset, I witnessed first-hand how local action on the ground by Christians and others can make a difference, especially once that trust is established,” he explained in a lighter tone. “Working with The Clewer Initiative is allowing me to share the experience I gained in Somerset with parishes and dioceses across the country, encouraging others to begin taking action for themselves.”

What does modern slavery look like in our local communities?

One of the most prolific forms of forced criminality is county lines drug smuggling, where gangs lure young and vulnerable people into trafficking drugs from urban centres to smaller towns and rural areas. County lines drug trafficking is growing across the UK and will certainly be present in Sussex, whether you are aware of it or not.”

The Clewer Initiative’s motto is ‘We See You’, and we talk a lot about how modern slavery is ‘hidden in plain sight,’” said David as he went on to explain that not all crimes are so obviously illegal. “That’s why The Clewer Initiative has created tools such as the Safe Car Wash App which enables motorists to identify and report potential modern slavery and exploitation at hand car washes.”

Another example is forced begging. Many people in desperate need do beg, but it can also be an activity organized by criminals, where the money doesn’t actually go to the people who are begging. There can be tell-tale signs, and I’ve even reported an incident of this at my local supermarket.”

Other types of exploitation can be even harder to spot – for example, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude often happens behind closed doors. Mo Farah’s moving story, which was told by the BBC this summer, brought the horror of domestic servitude to our attention in a fresh way.”

What can people do within their own communities to help prevent modern slavery from occurring?

The most important thing is to raise awareness that modern slavery exists in every community,” said David. “There are many myths associated with modern slavery such as ‘it isn’t occurring in my community’, or ‘it’s limited to the sex trade.’ In one form or another, it exists in every town or city and we must grow in our understanding of it.”

Awareness and education are key, and the Hidden Voices course is a great start to that.

Can you tell us more about the Hidden Voices course?

The Hidden Voices course is divided into four sessions. There is an overview of modern slavery and exploitation and its many manifestations, then sessions on detection – spotting the signs and reporting issues; prevention – how to ‘slavery proof’ your community with church projects such as foodbanks and drop-in cafés; and finally, action planning – what the group will do as their next steps.”

Our starting point is that we already have the means to end modern slavery in our communities, and the church, with a presence in all communities, has a key role to play,” said David as he began to end on a brighter note. “This means each community builds its resilience to modern slavery by knowing what to look for, how to report it, and how to protect those most vulnerable to it. Hidden voices helps to build that resilience by having a group of people prepared to take action for their community.”