Graham O’Neill: Scotland needs to take responsibility for human trafficking
Professor Tom Devine was right to describe the Edinburgh Agreement between the Scottish and UK Governments, which paves the way for a referendum on independence, as the most important political date since the Act of Union in 1707. Scotland is now in a new pre-referendum phase.
Hopefully, it will be characterised by serious debate on fundamental issues relating to potential Statehood, such as a written constitution, the economy, and various social policies. However, what about modern day slavery, what about the hitherto perversely marginalised problem of human trafficking, don’t we need also to talk about that?
The answer is emphatically yes. What can be more of a political and legislative priority than preventing and responding to the crime of vulnerable people – from here and abroad – being subjected to the control of traffickers; a control gained and deepened through abuse of power, deception, and coercion. When one puts themselves in the shoes of victims, reflects on their exploitation - being forced to have sex, having to work for no pay; having to commit crime; being humiliated as a servant in the home - one must act.
So, the Summit convened by The Scottish Government today is timely, indeed it is overdue stemming as it did from the now nearly one year old Report of the Inquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland (the Inquiry), from Equality and Human Rights Commission (the EHRC), which was I managed and that was led by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.
Whilst the moral imperative must be part of the Summit politics matter too. The Summit is an early test for Scotland - led by an independence-hungry SNP administration - to start to demonstrate whether it is actually fit to get a handle on precisely the type of global challenge that actual States have a unambiguous responsibility to tackle. The encouraging fact is that there is no significant barrier in the devolution settlement to Scotland’s having its own, distinct, and ideally exemplar Human Trafficking Strategy.
Modern day slavery, like so many intractable global problems such as climate injustice or transnational organised crime, can be tackled only through sustained political responsibility being taken: leadership both in one’s orbit and through cooperation with one’s peers internationally. The Summit is a tremendous opportunity for this leadership to be taken, so a national strategy can be developed in collaboration with the many in our public, private, and civil society who have an as yet unrealised contribution to make.
One should remember that today’s Summit stems mainly from the relentless proactivity of Scotland’s human rights community producing a range of reports in Scotland on human trafficking. In particular, the EHRC’s “groundbreaking” Inquiry pinpointed Scotland’s “strategy gap”, inexplicable not only because human trafficking is precisely the kind of problem that merits the “joined-up” approach; or Scotland is rather good has been rather good at strategy in related fields e.g. serious and organised crime; but also as Scotland and the UK once did joint plans, and Scotland doesn’t.
Of course, why does a strategy matter? Well, because of how human trafficking exists in Scotland today. The most important insight I gained in conducting the EHRC’s Inquiry was that human trafficking is not a marginal social problem, playing out in shadowy back streets; rather it is at the heart of how and where we live. The Inquiry uncovered trafficked exploitation in residential sex flats we live beside, in farms we get our food from, in restaurants we dine in, in hotels for weekends away, on websites advertising “escorts”. Moreover, victims were found across Scotland from Skye to Edinburgh, from Stranraer to Aberdeen. Human trafficking is central not peripheral in modern Scotland.
So, what are the implications of this, that human trafficking is actually part of what makes modern Scotland function, whether we care to admit or not. There are many, but three staand out:
First, Scottish society must acknowledge that we, like every other Western European country, have a human trafficking problem. Only then can we begin to make the inroads into public and professional consciousness on the signs and sites of trafficked exploitation. Only then can start to take responsibility for that we can most make a difference in trafficking chains, namely on how we create or condone the demand for the cheap goods and services that provides the initial trigger for cheap, exploitable, and often trafficked labour. This is where we, as a “destination” country may best influence prevention. As Baroness Helena Kennedy QC when launching the Report of the Inquiry: “human trafficking is a whole society problem; so it demands a whole society response”.
Second, Scotland needs political leadership from the only two institutions with the requisite national platform: The Scottish Government and The Scottish Parliament. Here the challenge is deceptively simple: to have the political courage to recognise that a coherent strategy on, legislation against, and parliamentary scrutiny on human trafficking are actually within the policy and legislative competence of both institutions. Human trafficking is essentially an issue of human rights violation, crime, and inequality; it is not an issue of asylum or immigration. So, any strategy, any legislation, any system for identifying and assisting victims in Scotland can and should reflects this political and legal fact. Devolution allows for a human rights, crime focused, and strategic approach to human trafficking, unfettered by asylum and immigration, so we should do it.
Third, as stressed throughout, we need joined up thinking – we need a national strategy against human trafficking – precisely because of its breadth and penetration in Scotland. That is why we prioritised the recommendation on a strategic approach being taken in the EHRC Report; that is why we selected and described the nine other recommendations in the Report as “pillars” in any robust strategy; and that is why we deliberately brought so many different agencies into our Inquiry “tent” e.g. it is not just the Police, victims services, or the Crown Office that have a role to play, so to do health professionals, social workers, child protection committees, trade unions, licensing boards, environmental health bodies, councils, labour inspectors, solicitors and advocates, prisons, and I could go on.
So many parts of our society are touched by trafficking, so there are many opportunities – currently missed – to spot and stop it but we can’t do that alone, rather we need our national institutions starting with today’s Summit to take full responsibility, and in so doing echo the leadership of President Obama against human trafficking:
“It ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.”
• Graham O’Neill is lead researcher in Scotland for the anti-trafficking monitoring group.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west