Pepe Bingham-Hall shares her inspiration for running a campaign to get mandatory modern slavery training on NVQ-level curricula for hospitality. Born in Australia and raised in Singapore, Pepe is now in her final year studying for a BA in Anthropology and Visual Practice at Goldsmiths, University of London.
My first encounter with modern slavery was finding out that a B&B in my street was being used by traffickers for the sexual exploitation of young teenagers. I was still at school myself and it shocked me that this was happening to young women, my age, in my home town. This wasn’t something that happened far away or simply historically. Nor was it an isolated case, with some figures estimating that more than 300 young people in the area were subject to the abuse.
Like many young people, I have worked in hospitality. I haven’t chosen it as a career, but since I was 15 I have worked part-time in the industry. In my work behind the bar, as a waiter and as a chef, I have met many other people working in hotels, catering and restaurants and heard many stories.
With an annual turnover of £102 billion in 2018, the hospitality industry is one of the largest employment sectors in the country, employing 10% of the UK workforce, roughly 2.9 million people. Representing such a large portion of the UK economy, the sector is a target for human traffickers. As such, it is vital that measures are put in place to reduce instances of modern slavery with a view to eradicate it entirely.
Alongside hospitality, I have worked for many years as a youth worker in the Oxford area. The case of the sexually exploited young women hit home the importance of protecting our youth from the horrors of modern slavery and trafficking. I signed up to the SEE-ME programme with the Wonder Foundation to learn more about modern slavery and how to campaign against it. The more I heard from experts, the more I reflected upon my own my experience in the hospitality industry and the reality of the Oxford case. The traffickers were men in my community – one was the uncle of a girl I knew. I had so many questions but one stood out: how did this go unnoticed in the B&Bs? If this had happened in a hotel that I was working in, would anyone have noticed? Would we have known what to do? I didn’t realise when I started the SEE-ME programme that I would have the chance to develop a campaign on the issue and launch it in Parliament, supported by Sian Lea from Shiva Foundation. Unravelling the complexity of what would work to create change in the industry has been fascinating, and the work of Shiva Foundation has been instrumental in framing our endeavours.
The story of Abul Kamal Azad, reported in The Guardian in 2016, struck a chord with me as we were developing our campaign. Leaving his family in Bangladesh in 2009, Abul travelled to the UK in search of a job to better support his family. Promised a high paid cheffing job in London he ended up working 22 hours a day in a run-down hotel in the isolation of West Scotland, when his traffickers informed him that the plan had changed. As with many victims of modern slavery, debt to traffickers was used as a way to control them – Abul had to pay £20 000 upfront for a Tier 2 sponsorship visa. He was paid a measly £100 a month, while the rest of his wages went towards paying his insurmountable debt. As I have worked on the SEE-ME Campaign and reflected upon this story, which is by no means uncommon, the impact of modern slavery in the hospitality industry on the lives of so many people truly hit home. With more awareness about the signs of modern slavery, things may have been handled differently and Abul’s exploitation may have been spotted earlier. Would I have noticed?
Our proposal is to implement modern slavery awareness training at the level of Level 3 NVQ qualifications (A-Level equivalent) at vocational and apprenticeship levels. Fostering meaningful change in the culture of the industry must take hold at a grassroots level and we believe by creating an awareness of modern slavery and its manifestations among students of hospitality, we can tackle the prevalence of modern slavery in the industry.
Graduates entering the industry will be in everyday contact with the workers most vulnerable to trafficking, like waiters and housekeepers. Equipped with the knowledge of how to proceed when cases of modern slavery present themselves, abuses can be tackled at the ground level. As these individuals progress into managerial roles, they bring this knowledge with them and the awareness is sustained throughout the industry.
If you work in the hospitality industry, know someone who does, or encounter the industry on a daily basis, join me in advocating for learning about the warning signs of modern slavery. We hope that soon there will be modern slavery awareness training available to everyone working in the industry. Realising our own capabilities in tackling modern slavery is the first step. Visit https://www.modernslaveryhelpline.org/about/spot-the-signs
to learn more about the warning signs now.
To support this campaign, take action here!
SEE-ME (Solidarity, Education, Engagement – Modern-Day Slavery in Europe) is a project that is engaging young people from the UK, Spain and Slovenia. The young people are given chance to gain an insight into modern slavery and human trafficking so that they can harness their skills and knowledge to build solidarity, explore the complexity of this subject and work to end it. Through interactive workshops with expert speakers, and getting together with like-minded young people they develop campaign ideas. This project is run by the Wonder Foundation.