For a couple of days this week I’m in Lincolnshire. In the flat fenlands, I drove past vast fields of green vegetables waiting to be picked and in one I saw groups of pickers hunched over, doing the back breaking work that starts the journey to our dinner plates. The work is hard and pays little, and I learnt from one of the people I was meeting about the harsh living conditions in which some of the workers live. I heard about one case where the local authority was forced to intervene when conditions were so bad that one ‘packhouse’—shared accommodation block for about 30 people—was condemned as unfit for human habitation. The local Methodist Church stepped in to provide emergency accommodation and support until other arrangements could be made.
Our safeguarding policies have been broadened in recent years to recognise modern slavery as a form of abuse, but I would hazard a guess that few instances have come to our direct attention. Although local media will from time to time report targeted raids on establishments where employment practices meet the definition, it’s probably also true that cases of trafficking and institutional abuse are rarely encountered in regular church life. They are included in our policies, practice guidance and training because their impact can be equally as devastating as all the other forms of abuse we probably know more about and have become better at recognising. Furthermore, like the Lincolnshire church responding positively, churches are key to the development of local community safeguarding networks that can identify issues that may be becoming more prevalent in a particular area. This may in turn lead to some joint action, or partnership with other organisations that offer more specialist advice and guidance.
This blog is principally written for the London District, not really known for its agriculture. Although in the capital we have been alerted to poor conditions at car washes other forms of modern slavery, such as domestic servitude, are more likely to be hidden away from view. So, as ever, this is a reminder to be alert to these ‘newer’ types of abuse that the Church has now recognised. To learn more about modern slavery and for advice about what to do if you spot a situation that doesn’t look right, visit the website of the Clewer Initiative established by the Church of England to help dioceses develop their own strategies - https://theclewerinitiative.org/. It’s a really helpful website but also shocking in its descriptions of what its research is discovering.
The Methodist Church’s position statement agreed in January 2021 can be accessed here: