Ending Modern Slavery - Zoe Smith Blog

Zoe Smith, Director of Communications and Advocacy at Medaille Trust, recently caught up with her friends at Liberty Earth – a podcast advocating human liberty. In this Q&A Zoe takes Liberty Earth through what it means to be working with an organization that seeks to end modern slavery.

Tell us a bit about Medaille Trust and the work they do.

Medaille Trust are a UK-based charity dedicated to helping survivors of modern slavery. They were started in 2006 when one lady – Sister Ann Teresa SSJA – said ‘something must be done’. She gathered a group of friends from different religious congregations and together they started tackling the scourge of modern slavery. What started with a house for women trafficked into prostitution quickly grew into a national network supporting all people trapped in modern slavery – women, men and families. Medaille Trust is now the largest provider of supported safe house beds for victims of modern slavery in the UK – their specialist teams support clients 24/7 on the road to restoration and independence. 

Alongside this, Medaille Trust raise awareness of the reality of modern slavery, support law enforcement officials in the UK and elsewhere to bring slave gangs to justice, engage in preventative work in source countries such as Albania, and are embarking on a new journey into advocacy for survivors of slavery. 

What drew you to working on issues of modern slavery?

I first became aware of modern slavery in 2007 when my youth theatre group improvised pieces on trans-Atlantic and modern slavery to commemorate the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade. I was meant to be revising for my A-levels, but was overwhelmed by this hidden travesty and spent hours researching into modern slavery around the world. This also later became the focus of my undergraduate dissertation. So, when the job at Medaille Trust came up it felt like a very natural transition back into this sector. 

What story from Medaille’s work has been most inspiring for you so far?

It’s hard to pick just one. The most inspiring group of stories for me have to be those of recovery and restoration through their time at Medaille Trust’s safe houses – whether it’s the client abused in sex slavery who overcame her trauma and recently began a safe and happy marriage, or the young woman enslaved in domestic servitude who held onto her dream throughout and is now studying to become an accountant, or the man abused in forced labour who is now in fully paid, fully legal full-time employment. 

What does advocacy look like in the world of fighting against modern slavery? Are there unique challenges to this advocacy?  Are there any parallels between this type of advocacy and advocating for persecuted religious minorities where you were working before?

It’s been an interesting transition from a sector where you spend most of your time trying to convince influencers of the importance of your issue (persecution of religious minorities) to one where all influencers seem to accept that your issue (modern slavery) is a significant priority. The questions then become about how to tackling it / how much support can or should be available, rather than whether it requires tackling. 

One of the challenges I’m currently assessing is how to engage in an already robust framework where it could be argued that enough is being done, but where we see significant gaps and opportunities to improve. Another is that there are more players in this field – this creates the challenge of potential overlap/duplication but equally opens up the opportunities of multiple effective partnerships. And, due to the complexity of the issue, people and organisations do seem very open to partnership working which is encouraging. 

There is currently much cross-border collaboration between organisations fighting modern slavery. Will Brexit affect the cooperation between these organisations?

That’s anybody’s guess! It really depends on what kind of Brexit we get and what additional barriers are put in place. I find Medaille Trust’s international work particularly exciting – whether it’s our preventative work in Albania or our annual international criminal justice conference for European Law Enforcement Officials in Slovenia. Ultimately, whatever happens, as one of the delegates at our 2019 conference said: “Organized crime doesn’t limit itself to borders – it will go wherever it can make money. So we need to cooperate more.”

How does the law enforcement in the UK and Europe respond to advocacy efforts by organisations like Medaille? 

Medaille Trust has built up good relationships with various parts of UK and European law enforcement. Our approach is that we want to support them to do their jobs better and to get the best outcomes for our clients, which seems to have been well-received so far. When you approach it from this perspective you build up the relationships and grace that enable you to have robust conversations as a critical friend when needed, which I find to be a very effective form of advocacy. 

How can people spot the signs of modern slavery and what are some things they should do if they spot a situation where slavery might be involved? 

We’ve got a page on our new website all about how to spot the signs of modern slavery – I’d recommend people take a look at that and get clued-up on what to look out for: 

If you have any concerns about potential victims, it’s best not to confront them as this could make them more vulnerable. Instead, if you’re in the UK, contact: 

  • 999 in an emergency
  • 101 to report your concern to the Police
  • Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 in confidence

If you’d like more information about spotting the signs of modern slavery, or to discuss a potential issue in your community, you can always call Medaille Trust on 0800 06 999 16.

What is needed to end the issue of modern slavery? Where can people go if they are looking to learn more, or become more involved in working to end modern slavery?

Greater awareness across all levels is vital if we are to end slavery. From awareness among the public as consumers of goods contaminated by slavery, as people who can spot the signs of slavery in their local community, and as lobbyists who can campaign to their governments and businesses for change. To awareness in our businesses about slavery in their supply chains, among our public services about what to do if they come across a potential victim, to politicians and civil servants that we’re only at the beginning of the journey to combat modern slavery. Modern slavery is big business – it brings in billions globally each year – and it will take a unified, concerted global effort to bring it down. People can look on Medaille Trust’s website, or on the website of other excellent charities like Stop the Traffik, Anti-Slavery International, The Clewer Initiative – to name a few – for ways to get involved and join the fight against modern slavery. 

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