As aforementioned earlier in this series, victims of trafficking are heavily influenced by push and pull factors. By general rule, trafficking takes place from poorer to wealthier countries. However, a closer analysis of the push-pull model in relation to the UK reveals the reasons as to why the state would be considered as an ‘attractive destination’. The nation’s flexible labour market, low unemployment and reasonably high wages all explain why people would opt to migrate there. Especially when you take into consideration the reasons that people are pushed out of their home countries such as lack of opportunities, poverty, political instability and conflict. The influence of these push and pull factors can be continued to be seen in the labour that trafficking victims are forced into, in the sense that they remain compliant to the employers irresistible demands.
The extent of the problem in the UK has been most publicly exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen gross labour exploitation be called out. Raigrodski innocently remarked back in 2016 that ‘no country is exempt from the pandemic of human trafficking’, a comment that has come to have a much darker meaning amidst the ongoing global pandemic and impact that it has had on victims of trafficking and modern slavery. While the economic restrictions and shutdowns that were imposed by the UK government in response to the virus created unprecedented challenges for most industries, fast fashion brands were able to capitalise on it. However, this surge of online sales that was observed as stores were forced to close came at a great moral cost and has exacerbated the fundamental flaws in the UK’s response to trafficking and modern slavery.
The city of Leicester was the first region in the UK to face a local lockdown following a significant rise in covid-19 cases, which left a lot of people wondering why. Andrew Bridgen MP accounted the local lockdown to the conditions in the city’s garment factories. The brutal dilemma of choosing to work or starve was the unfortunate reality for many in the city, as Leicester’s captive workforce had to increase production to meet online retailer demand. The conditions in such factories have been described as a ‘recipe for the spread of the virus’ and thus presumed to be responsible for the spike in cases that was recorded. Not only does the case of Leicester confirm the relationship between increased demand and the growth of trafficking and modern slavery; it also raises huge human rights concerns and epitomizes the collateral damage of fast fashion.
Bal Sokhi-Bulley reflected on the situation in Leicester from a more personal perspective, arguing that her home city has been re-colonised by the pandemic. Bulley’s re-colonisation argument centres around the notion of ‘national shame’ that followed the government imposing a local lockdown on the city. The article contends that both the pandemic and state mismanagement of it has created the narrative that Leicester is the ‘the sweatshop of Europe’, filled with irresponsible BAME communities and oppressive factory owners. Not only is this narrative damaging in the way that it has regressed Leicester from ‘the exotic heart of Britain’ to dirty, but also in the way that it dehumanises the factory workers of the city. The blame cannot be cast on those who were subject to furlough fraud and forced to work, irrespective of whether they were showing symptoms, or in fact had been diagnosed with the virus.
Ultimately, the situation in Leicester is both unacceptable and shocking, workers in Britain should be respected not made to feel disposable. Moreover, the fundamental issue as expressed by Andrew Bridgen MP is the fact that it should not have taken a global pandemic to ‘expose the scandal of Leicester’s sweatshops’. The next post in this series will look more closely at the now infamous Boohoo group, whom were the brand most notably called out for their involvement in the Leicester sweatshop scandal.
Bal Sokhi-Bulley, ‘From Exotic to “Dirty”: How the Pandemic Has Re-colonised Leicester’ (Discover Society, 16 July 2020) <https://archive.discoversociety.org/2020/07/16/from-exotic-to-dirty-how-the-pandemic-has-re-colonised-leicester/>
University of Leicester Centre for Sustainable Work and Employment Futures, ‘New Industry on a Skewed Playing Field: Supply Chain Relations and Working Conditions in UK Garment Manufacturing’ (2015), 32.
Alexis A. Aronowitz, Human Trafficking, Human Misery: The Global Trade in Human Beings (Greenwood Publishing Group 2009), 11.
Eiko Thielemann and Daniel Schade, ‘Buying into Myths: Free Movement of People and Immigration’ (2016) 87(2) The Political Quarterly 139, 143.
Louise Shelley, ‘Why Has Human Trafficking Flourished?’ in Louise I. Shelley (ed), Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective (Cambridge University Press 2010), 37.
Dana Raigrodski, ‘Creative Capitalism and Human Trafficking: A Business Approach to Eliminate Forced Labor and Human Trafficking from Global Supply Chains’ (2016) 8 William & Mary Business Law Review 71, 78.
Andrew Bridgen MP, ‘Andrew Bridgen: It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to expose the scandal of Leicester’s sweatshops’ (Conservativehome.com, 16 July 2020) <https://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2020/07/andrew-bridgen-3.html>