The Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury have given their backing to the launch today of a project aimed at mobilising the Church of England’s 12,000 parishes in the battle to eradicate modern slavery.
The Clewer Initiative is a three-year programme to help the Church of England’s 42 dioceses work to support victims of modern slavery and identify the signs of exploitation in their local communities.
The Diocese of Bath and Wells is one of ten dioceses already signed up to The Clewer Initiative and launches its own local campaign tomorrow at Wells Cathedral.
In a statement of support for the launch today at Lambeth Palace, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime which destroys the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society. I value the work that the Clewer Initiative will be doing to enable the Church of England dioceses and wider church networks to develop strategies to tackle modem slavery.
“In particular, I welcome the focus on engaging with local communities to help them to spot the signs of modern slavery.
“We need to shine a light on this hidden crime and to encourage more victims to come forward so that we can provide them with the support they need.
In a video message, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, encouraged churches to act as ‘eyes and ears’ in local communities to identify victims. He said: “Jesus came saying that he proclaimed freedom for captives. Freedom is something that we take for granted, but it is the gift of God, it is the purpose of God. Those who purposefully constrain, confine and traffick and enslave people will face the judgement of God for their terrible sins.
“Yet even more serious is when we choose not to see: when as it were we put on our own blindfolds and don’t see those around us who are held in slavery, oppressed, trafficked, in other peoples’ power.
“But we can change it – we can change it so easily, so quickly. We can set people free, set our society and nation free from the scourge of slavery simply by removing our blindfolds and acting on what we see.”
The Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, who chairs the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Advisory Panel, said: “Modern slavery is present in nearly every community in England and will continue to flourish if we remain indifferent to it.
“Churches can provide a space to gather of goodness and grace, with an open agenda where different groups can meet to discuss how they work together to support victims and to improve efforts for rescue and prevention.
“We can also act as ‘eyes and ears’ in our communities to help identify victims. Our work in the Clewer Initiative will build on the passion of churches to be with people, to contribute to more effective structures, and to go the extra mile for the sake of those who are suffering.”
The Diocese of Bath and Wells, in partnership with The Clewer Initiative and Wells Cathedral, are working together to develop strategies to detect instances of modern slavery in Somerset. The collaboration begins with a launch event at Wells Cathedral on Wednesday 18 October. People from local business and politics, charity leaders and senior clergy will attend to learn about how modern slavery is able to prevail nationally and to begin developing strategies to combat it.
David Maggs, Mission Team Leader in the Diocese of Bath and Wells and event organiser says: “Modern slavery exists in Somerset today and goes by hidden and unnoticed. The event is not simply about raising awareness of the issue, but about bringing people together so that we can begin taking tangible, practical steps to tackle the issue.”
Speaking to BBC Somerset, the Bishop of Taunton, Ruth Worsley, said that church congregations are uniquely placed and “know people in our communities, better than most.”
The event on Wednesday 18 October will feature workshops from Bristol-based charity, Unseen, the Red Cross, and the Children’s Society. Over 100 school children will also attend to learn about aspects of modern slavery.
Globally, it is estimated that over 40m people are enslaved. In August, the National Crime Agency said there could be “tens of thousands” of people enslaved in the UK, and they are running an investigation in “every major town and city in the UK.”