I just received an email regarding the Tumbling Lassie Ball 2017 in aid of victims of modern slavery and people trafficking. The name of the Ball comes from a little known case Reid v Scot of Harden decided in the Court of Session in 1687. It was about a little girl, a stage gymnast, who ran away from her manager, a Mr Reid, because she was physically worn out by her work, dancing as part of his travelling stage show. She had taken shelter with Scott of Harden and his wife but Reid sued the Scots claiming he had bought the girl from her mother and that she belonged to him. The Scottish Court of Session refused Reid’s claim with the case report declaring “But we have no slaves in Scotland, and mothers cannot sell their bairns.”
Yet centuries later we have modern slavery. The definition of this taken from Modern Slavery Facts-Walk Free is “when one person possesses or controls another person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty , with the intention of exploiting that person through their use , profit, transfer or disposal”.
Here are some very unpalatable facts also contained in an information sheet by the Walk Free Foundation.
- 8 million people are enslaved
- 68% are subject to forced labour
- Nearly 1 in 3 detected victims of slavery is a child
- Slavery is illegal in almost every nation on earth but still exists everywhere
- Over half victims of slavery are women and girls
- Slave labour contributes to the production of at least 136 goods from 74 countries worldwide.
- The majority of victims are trafficked by someone they know and trust
- Victims of slavery can be as young as 5 or 6 years old.
On the 28 May 2016 The Guardian published an article “A Slave in Scotland: I fell into a trap-and I couldn’t get out”. In 2009 Abdul Azad left his wife and baby son in Bangladesh expecting to start work as a chef in a restaurant in London. This was arranged by Shamsul Arefin whom he had met after responding to an advert in a Dhaka paper offering jobs as a chef in the UK. With the promise of a good life and a better job Azad borrowed £15,000 from moneylenders and raised another £5000 by selling his family land, his business and finally his wife’s jewellery to pay Arefin his sponsorship fee.
When Azad arrived in London he was told by Arefin to get a coach to Glasgow and then another bus to Ballachulish where he was taken to the Stewart Hotel. He spent months there as the sole employee , cleaning, cooking and gardening for up to 22 hours a day seven days a week for which he was never paid more than £100 a month which was just enough to send something home. Other Bangladeshi men began to arrive at the hotel to be treated as Azad having also paid large amounts of money to Arefin for sponsorship.
One day Arefin had left the hotel and the trafficked men took the one bus to Fort William and walked into the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and asked for help. A few weeks later the hotel was raided by the UK Border Agency and Arefin’s sponsor licence was revoked.
The story however does not have a happy ending. The men got the help of a case worker Jim Laird of Migrant Help and the Home Office agreed that they could stay in the UK on short term temporary visas if they agreed to be witnesses in a criminal investigation into Arefin and the Stewart Hotel. It took five years for the criminal case to come to trial. In July 2015 Shamsul Arefin was found guilty of human trafficking under the Asylum and Immigration Act and was given a three year prison sentence. But this conviction did little to help his former workers who are still fighting to stay in the UK while they try to claim compensation or be able to work to pay off their debts back home. As the article has said the men are “All terrified that their lives, and those of their families, will be at risk if they are forced to return, unable to pay their debts.”
The proceeds from The Tumbling Lassie Ball 2017 will be shared between TARA which works to support victims of trafficking in Scotland and the International Justice Mission, which works with local lawyers in the developing world to fight slavery.
I hope that the Ball will be a resounding success.