Faiths to Freedom: Interfaith Action on Modern Slavery

29 Oct, 2018 | Latest, Slavery and Trafficking, Stop the hostile environment

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By Elliot Steinberg

When I sat down to write this blog post, I was feeling  drained after a long day at work and, to be honest, not very motivated to write a blog on the difficult issue of Modern Slavery.

Opening my laptop and clicking onto the BBC news website as I usually to post-work so that I can catch up on everything in life that isn’t directly relevant to my job, I instantly found the kick I needed in the form of a headline which read, “Slavery victim lived in shed for 40 years”.

A man, aged 58, had been kept captive from the age of just 16-17 in abysmal conditions and forced to work unpaid. For 40 years he had not been found, until a call was made to a confidential helpline and the location was raided.

The news story was the sixth most-read that evening – following on from our Prime Minister dancing her way onto the stage before making her Conservative Party Conference speech (number 3) and, at number 1, a man in a sailor’s outfit being pushed into the water at the Albert Dock by someone presenting the weather on an old floating map of the UK.

Now don’t get me wrong, I obviously read both of those articles as well. Because we need to be able to laugh together at the funny and absurd too.

But just as equally, we need to think together about how a man can be enslaved from the age of 18 for 40 years, live and starve in a shed whilst working unpaid, and never be noticed. And we need to think about how we can create a world where that simply isn’t possible.

For the last three years I have been working on a project which brings faith communities together to educate their respective masses about modern slavery – to equip people with real tools and skills to help spot the signs of slavery and know what to do if and when they see them.

The project, now called Faiths To Freedom, has evolved out of Freedom Sunday – a day of Worship and Action for Christian communities – and aims to bring together Christians, Jews and Muslims so they can work together on this issue. The project uses sources from all three faiths to inspire people to think about slavery, ancient and modern, and teaches people what the many faces and guises of slavery can look like in today’s world.

It teaches people how and where to report suspicions and, through Stop The Traffik’s work, how to feed into a database of intelligence which is finding patterns of where things look weird; where slavery chains might be in motion and, importantly, acting to disrupt those chains.

Faiths To Freedom is building resources from across our communities to bring people in from their own backgrounds and the vision is that it will soon be a hub for Jews, Christians and Muslims to exchange traditions, learn from one another, and create a network of people fighting slavery.

So why should this be an issue for our faith communities, and why for us as Jews? The Jewish theologian in me points to our heritage of the Exodus alongside the tradition of our rabbis to encourage us to engage in tikkun olam – where we see things wrong in the world to try to fix them.

The Jewish community has begun to engage on this issue. René Cassin and the Council of Christians and Jews are both partners in Faiths To Freedom, and our Rabbis across the religious spectrum have spoken out about slavery and our need to do something about it.

But more powerfully, our faith communities are ideally placed to combat modern slavery. At a national conference for the Clewer Initiative, the Church of England’s response to slavery and another partner in Faiths To Freedom, Church leaders spoke about victims of trafficking and slavery arriving in their Churches. They need to know how to respond appropriately, offer support without further endangering the victim, and understand that knowledge is stronger the further it is shared.

Our communities have international ties, and through Faiths To Freedom we have been able to network Christian and Muslim communities internationally to highlight the dangers of deals that sound too good to be true, and help keep people out of the slavery chains before they are entrapped  by the dream of a good education or job.

It needs engagement across communities because each community will have different platforms, connections, and flashpoints, but these are best put into action alongside one another where they can complement one another.

And our communities, even our Jewish communities, live alongside the carwashes, nail bars, launderettes and marijuana farms that are literally holding people captive.

So as a first point to engage, if something doesn’t seem right, tell someone. Use the Stop App or Modern Slavery Helpline to record your suspicions – nothing bad can come of submitting your worries, and who knows? It might be the call which leads to a raid and frees a man for the first time in 40 years.

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