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Human Trafficking: the True Cost of a Bargain

Whether considering a cheap manicure or tempted by an ‘inspired’ knock-off, it can be all too easy to forget what drives these huge savings or – indeed – who they impact. What’s more, while the horrors of trafficking and exploitation often conjure up far-flung scenes of migrants braving treacherous conditions, the grim reality is more mundane but just as deadly – and closer to home than you think.

Simply walk along the high street or pull up near a petrol station, and it’s quite possible you may have already, unwittingly, seen it in action. From local nail bars to hand car washes and construction sites, farms to family restaurants, look closely enough and you may be shocked to discover that sometimes vulnerable, exploited people can, and are, hiding in plain sight. Dreaming of a better life and promised humble freedoms many of us simply take for granted.

Many are told to remain anonymous, for fear of deportation – or worse – at the hands of the people they trusted. As for the rest of us? Insulated from such unimaginable suffering, we are conditioned not to recognise such fears or to question – fostering a sense of complacency on which their traffickers depend.

Take the appalling conditions uncovered in Leicester’s textile industry, for example. Toiling for years at a pittance in the name of fast fashion, it was only through whistleblowing and investigation that this doorstep horror was uncovered – demonstrating the power of passive complicity, and proving a timely reminder that ‘Made in Britain’ doesn’t necessarily come with the assurances we’d be forgiven for expecting – and demanding. Just as shocking, with evidence showing this beleaguered workforce actually grew during lockdown due to high demand, it is clear that collective inaction can be life-threating for exploited workers.

Take a closer look, and it becomes clear endemic abuse is not confined to cities. Indeed, scroll back a few years and you’ll find Scotland’s first documented case of modern slavery, a Bangladeshi chef named Abul Azad, whose ordeal saw him trafficked to a remote hotel in the West Highlands, highlighting the wide reach of traffickers across the country. Where reviewers complained about overworked staff and ‘poor service’, the tell-tale signs of exploitation were missed for all too long: a damning (if unsurprising) phenomenon of forgotten individual tragedy in a world dominated by headline horror, such as the heart-wrenching Vietnamese Essex lorry deaths just last year. Taken together, and as these varied backgrounds, locations and occupations show, vulnerable people like Azad are all around us – and need our support.

So, what can we do?

As Angela Brand, Police Constable at the SBRC explains, we should all be vigilant to our surroundings, and the potential victims that we may encounter in our everyday lives:

“Victims of human trafficking are often hidden in plain sight, which can make it harder for others to recognise them. It is extremely important that members of the public can spot the signs that someone may be a potential victim of trafficking; and feel confident in reporting the circumstances. Human trafficking is not just a crime, but a human rights violation, and your actions could help save lives. If something doesn’t feel or look right, or seems out of place, please report it. You can either contact the police; or report it via another agency such as Crimestoppers or The Modern Slavery Helpline.

Set out below, the SBRC has provided a helpful guide, indicating some of the many factors to look out for – all of which can make a vital difference:

What to Look Out For

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Poorly dressed (e.g. shorts in winter when working outdoors)
  • Afraid
  • Robotic behaviour or appear to act as instructed (perhaps ‘leader’ is in charge of ID / important documents)
  • Poor physical appearance and sometime signs of injury

Although not comprehensive, spotting any one of these signs – and even relying on instinct when something doesn’t seem right – is key to breaking the cycle of abuse. What’s more, by changing our consumer behaviour we can dismantle the profitability of such ventures, which seek to diminish its forced victims in a grim supply chain, while funding the likes of organised crime – including drugs, prostitution and terrorism no less – as luxury fashion boss CEO Bernard Arnault (of Chanel and Louis Vuitton fame) acknowledged early this year.

So next time, when clicking onto a cheap fake, booking the latest treatment or simply going about your daily business – listen out, look out and don’t settle for less. A bargain should be just that – and never at the price of another life.

Posted in: Brand Protection Insights
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With a background in art history & fashion marketing, Lewis now works as a brand protection specialist in multiple sectors including whisky and homeware, where he passionately defends clients’ names, products and aesthetic integrity.