After recent events in Essex, trafficking has yet again become a topic of controversy.

On the 17th August 35 people were found in a freighter. One man died on the passage from Zeebrugg, Belgium to the Tilbury Docks of Essex. Others are still being treated for severe injuries caused by the journey.

Tony Smith, a former head of the UK Border Force. told the BBC that those in the container were not simply illegal immigrants but victims of trafficking by international criminals. With such a high profile case of human trafficking happening on British soil it has immediately become a prime issue in the public eye. Yet the truth is trafficking has always been a big problem in the UK as it has been across the world and can be seen as the new form of slavery. So why haven’t we heard about it before? Perhaps because it is impossible to get exact figures of those trafficked into the UK when the mainstream media can’t pin down solid facts.

The most recent report by the National Crime Agency on Human Trafficking and Referrals states in the introduction that: “It is important to note that the number of referrals outlined in this report is not a measure of human trafficking in the UK.” Therefore when it only details 289 adult referrals between July and September 2013 you have to consider how many people are not referred. Statistics about the actual number of those trafficked to the UK and internationally have never been accurate and never will be.

Statistics are not accurate due to the ignorance of many who are not aware of the way that traffickers exploit victims of trafficking.  How would you know whether your new top is made by the hands of an unpaid young trafficked woman? How would you know that there is a brothel down your street housing men and women who are being sexually exploited?

…many people in the privileged West just don’t want to know.

Trafficking is simply not talked about. There are plenty of articles on illegal immigrants or the drain on the welfare state by those who are not legal British citizens but it is rare to find articles actually dealing with the issue of human trafficking and modern slavery. For many victims there is a naive hope that getting into a the UK will make their life better and it is this naivety that lands them at the mercy of criminals who promise their victims the perfect way out of a life of poverty and oppression. The opportunistic criminal element recognises those aspiring to a better life as the perfect workforce whether for prostitution, unpaid labour or slavery.

With 1.2 million children being trafficked every year, according to UNICEF, it should be impossible to ignore the fact that this is one of the fastest growing criminal circuits on the planet. But many people in the privileged West just don’t want to know. If there were more concern for the exploitation of trafficked persons there would  be less of a need to raise awareness for trafficking in the fashion industry; Stop the Traffik’s current campaign Make Fashion Traffik-Free highlights the use of young women who have been sold into the Tamil Nadu region of India to make cotton fabric for fashion garments. While this is not the same as being trafficked into the UK, it is impossible to know how much of our lives has been touched by this latest horrific example of slave-driving. Hopefully, the recent events in Essex will provide suitable platform for an open discussion of human trafficking and how to combat its stark increase.

Image rights; Jean-Pierre Martineau