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SEE-ME European Conference: Tackling modern slavery will take a generation

Lisa Fraser

On 17 November, the European Conference on Modern Slavery, organised by Wonder Foundation as part of their SEE-ME Project, gathered about fifty young people to discuss modern slavery in Europe.

“I was inspired by everything. I really loved it” Brigitta, Slovenia

We welcomed young people from our partner organisations Fundacion Canfranc (Spain) and Sursum (Slovenia) who presented on the situations in their own countries. They highlighted the gap between the authorities’ responses and the reality of trafficking: while governments focus on fighting against sex trafficking, human trafficking takes many different forms that equally need to be tackled. The delegations highlighted how, in both countries, people witness situations of forced labour without identifying them as ‘modern slavery’. This might be the case of cheap clothes shop managed by Asian staff (‘Chinos’) in Spain, or construction workers crammed into unhealthy apartments in Slovenia. The delegations stressed the urgent need to raise awareness within our schools, families and communities.

“I really enjoyed the atmosphere, with young people discussing really important points’ Emilia, Slovenia

“I learnt how close human trafficking is to us: not only in the main cities, but probably even in shops in my town” Natalia, Spain

The European Conference also hosted a number of talks delivered by an impressive panel of experts.

Prof Coral Dando, who leads the academic field in the psychology of modern slavery at the University of Westminster, shared her insight on psychological coercion methods. She argued that the resources to understand modern slavery already exist and are easily accessible – therefore, it’s our duty to be proactive, look for this information, and learn how to spot alarming signs. Dando also encouraged us to question the way we make priorities: for instance, when we buy clothes, do we consider workers’ rights or only cheap prices? Dando reminded us that we have power as customers to make a real difference.

Heidi Chan, Ethical Trade Consultant, Impacct Limited, also urged us to use our consumer power to influence brands. She suggested us to compare modern slavery statements on brand websites, or email them on their commitments, and act accordingly when doing our shopping.

Emma Crates, award-winning reporter, invited us to be more cautious while using social media – especially when it comes to job offers. Her warning was particularly useful to a generation like ours, who are often looking abroad for career developments.

The European Conference also gave a voice to victims. Gene Alcantara, Immigration Law Practitioner, introduced us to the legal maze in the UK and Europe for Filipino migrant workers and revealed how it impacts victims’ fates. Film Director Aleksandra Czenczek shared her short-film – which won the Unchosen’s Modern Day Slavery Short Film Competition – filmed from the victims’ perspective.

Though the reality is dark, a message of hope that the system is changing was communicated to participants. Prof Dando explained that even though the public do not see it, much is done in the backstage – such as police forces receiving ad hoc trainings and preventing young people from falling into sordid traps. Equally important, all these testimonies have inspired us to act locally and relentless try to raise awareness around us. As a conclusion, Dando told us: “Tackling modern slavery will take a generation – and YOU are this generation.”

The European Conference was part of SEE-ME (Solidarity, Education, Engagement - Modern-Day Slavery in Europe), a project funded by Erasmus+, which was launched in September 2018. A group of young people has been working to produce change campaigns and produce change locally. Next year on the 6th February 2019, some of these campaigns will be presented in the Houses of Parliament. We’ll be providing updates of this event shortly, so be sure to keep an eye out!

Find out more about our SEE-ME Programme