Channel 4’s documentary tests the UK population’s awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery. They reveal cases happening on our door step; in Cheltenham, in Cambridgeshire and in London. As viewers watch, we ask ourselves, ‘how can this possibly be happening?’ and ‘how did we not know?’ Channel 4 force the nation to confront the brutal realities of forced labour that are all around us.
We can build awareness of the issues and strengthen our capacity to identify victims of modern slavery.
By focusing on a case involving a traveller’s site in Cheltenham, UK, the documentary reveals modern slavery in one of its most serious forms. Vulnerable men are offered work at the site involving light labour jobs for the family and help around the garden. The family who owns the site intentionally recruits individuals from towns with little job opportunity; or men who are hanging aimlessly at the entrances to soup kitchens; individuals who are looking lost and isolated on the streets. New recruits are promised safe comfortable accommodation, three meals a day and a monthly wage.
On arrival, the victims discover the setup is extremely difference to what they had been made to imagine. Their passports, keys, wallets and phones are all taken on arrival and they are allocated an over-crowded mobile home to live in. The work is not light labour, but very intense; the men are forced to pave people’s drives in horrendous weather conditions, sometimes for 17 hour days. Often, they are not fed and are forced to scavenge through dustbins. The victims claim they never saw a penny of their wages and were often beaten and abused. In many cases, individuals’ ‘initiation’ to the camp consisted of being hosed with water in freezing cold conditions and having their heads shaved.
Victims were not caged by barred walls, nor kept in chains, but they were mentally and psychologically imprisoned; their traffickers had killed their sense of self-worth and scared them into remaining on site.
The documentary exposes a variety of crime groups who have begun to make a living coercing victims into exploitative work. This has become an increasingly prominent issue across our society. The gang-masters often exploit people with a specific vulnerability, whether this be a situation of poverty, a disability or lack of social network. The traffickers create a living environment that further deteriorates their sense of self and human dignity.