Boff, Andrew (2013): Shadow City. Exposing Human Trafficking in Everyday London
Nearer than you think
Increasingly the authorities and many residents in London know that there is a criminal
activity called human trafficking. What they don’t usually know, accurately, is what human
trafficking actually constitutes and what forms are taking place around them. Most London
residents imagine that it does not touch directly on their lives – that the exploitation takes
place in brothels run by foreign gangs controlling foreign women. But it’s nearer than they
If you have had an Irish or Eastern European traveller knocking on your door offering cutprice
construction work, if you have had a manicure at a Vietnamese nail bar; if you have
been to inexpensive Chinese and Indian restaurants or takeaways; passed by groups of men
at mobile soup runs for the homeless; if you have taken cannabis; bumped into Latin
American cleaning staff at London hotels; dealt with British or African children who play
truant at school; if any of these circumstances are familiar to you, then you may well have
seen or even indirectly been involved in the exploitation of a victim of “trafficking.”
But human trafficking is not slavery in the historic sense – this is the first misleading notion
and is partly why authorities often fail to recognise, and so let down, victims of trafficking.
The scare-stories about thousands of hidden slaves tied up against their will is inaccurate.
What can be found in London, in higher numbers, are children and vulnerable British adults
and, often irregular, migrants being relentlessly exploited, particularly by British standards
and international human rights legislation.
However, “choice”, ambiguous as that term may be, is involved in these victims’
circumstances and, in many cases these people – such as migrants from poverty stricken
backgrounds or homeless British male victims – may see this life as an improvement on
where they have come from. Yet some victims will experience appalling and often gruesome
abuse in the UK. Sexual torture, starvation and physical abuse are not uncommon in these
outwardly ‘consensual’ environments. However, at the other end of the scale you can find
workers experiencing no physical or sexual abuse, and whose ‘traffickers’ have largely kept
to the terms of agreement. They will be being paid less than the minimum wage, working
unremitting hours, and be in unreasonably high debt bondage to criminals. They will also still
live in a state of anxiety relating to those they owe money to, or those they work with, or
the British authorities due to their irregular immigration status. This makes human
trafficking a grey area, not black and white as is commonly presented.
More in the report.
Article in the Guardian