Published on February 20th, 2023 | by CCAT0
World Day of Social Justice 2023
By Joelle McKie, Digital Campaigner
Today, Monday 20 February, is marked as World Day of Social Justice. It is a day that is officially appointed by the United Nations (UN) to recognise the ways we can collectively promote social justice globally. This year’s theme is all about overcoming barriers and unleashing opportunities for social justice. It is a time we strengthen global solidarity, re-evaluate relationships with governments, and invigorate communities to start rebuilding trust in authorities to drive change. It provides the opportunity for member states, youth, social partners, civil society, UN organisations, and all relevant organisations to start a conversation on how to begin dissolving current barriers to social justice and the ways we can promote this. 
Dissolving inequalities is key to eradicating human trafficking
Advocating for social justice is crucial to addressing inequalities such as poverty, marginalisation, sexism, racial prejudice, and so much more. It is fundamental when looking at cases of modern slavery to understand that ‘the stories of victims do not begin with a criminal, but with poverty and exclusion’’. To eradicate human trafficking from society we need to address the root causes. We do this by identifying what barriers there are to equal opportunities in our immediate communities and society. Frequently, we hear about cases of people coming into the UK from nations where work opportunities are scarce and the prospect for social mobility is low. These people may also be burdened with being the sole support of loved ones, and whilst in a state of desperation are enticed by the deceptive promises of traffickers. Many human trafficking survivors in the UK are from places such as Slovakia and Eastern Europe, where the rates of poverty and socio-economic deprivation are typically higher than other European nations. Migrants can be lured by promises of a new job in the UK, only to discover that they are not paid at all for the work that they do, in some cases they are forced to stay in uninhabitable living conditions and are met with threats and intimidation to prevent them from escaping.
In addition to poverty, poor education coupled with gender bias results in women being disproportionately represented in human trafficking cases. In Romania where 8.5 million out of the 19 million citizens are at risk of poverty, women are often groomed and introduced to prostitution from as young as 14. Once these women are deeply involved in sex work, they are trafficked to places such as the UK to work in brothels. In September 2020, ITV News investigated the dark world of sex trafficking in the UK, and uncovered a number of brothels in the Mayfair area of London. The majority of the women identified had come from Romania.
Marginalisation increased vulnerability to traffickers
Structural inequalities can impact some communities more than others. Examining how different demographics can be affected by systemic inequalities such as racial bias and exclusion, allows us to identify and safeguard members of these communities from the clutches of traffickers more efficiently. This is evident in how Romani communities across Europe are disproportionately targeted by human traffickers. In nations such as Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Romania they are disproportionately represented in human trafficking cases. Historically subjugated and ostracised, the racial discrimination, social exclusion, and violence this ethnic group is still subjected to not only makes them more vulnerable to traffickers, but results in their cases being less known and understood. Within these nations Roma people are often segregated from the wider communities and forced to live in informal settlements in poor housing conditions and frequently the targets of violent racially motivated attacks. Their children can be denied the right to a proper education and placed into Roma schools, where they are given inadequate education often dropping out early. Sadly, this often puts Roma people on the trajectory of unemployment and poverty, consequently they are more susceptible to the advances of human traffickers.
Marginalisation doesn’t just make being trafficked more likely; it also makes the process of rehabilitation and integration into communities more difficult for survivors. The vulnerability of this group to receive the support they need have been attributed to the “failure of national social systems to reduce and eliminate the inequalities this group faces”. Fear of retaliation from traffickers, fear of being prosecuted or even deported can prevent many trafficked victims seeking the assistance they need. However, when survivors are marred by negative racial stereotypes and experience social exclusion, they are further alienated and ostracised from the organisations and governing bodies that should be providing them assistance. Amnesty International are investigating the widespread discrimination that Romani communities face in Europe. Alongside Roma activists, they are putting pressure on the EU commission to initiative infringement proceedings on European nations that do not adhere to laws such as the Race Equality Directive that can help protect Romani communities.
The legacy of the hostile environment policy
Despite the blatant urgency to address the increasing prevalence of human trafficking, we’re witnessing a global decline in the rate of convictions. In the UK the Home Office’s decision to reclassify human trafficking as an illegal immigration issue has been widely criticised by NGOs and charities that work with survivors. The government’s focus has shifted away from its aims to tackle this heinous crime by deprioritising it and rendering it as merely ‘illegal migrants ‘gaming’ the system.' The decision is the product of the slow-brewing xenophobia and racism that saw the implementation of the inhumane hostile environment policy during the Brexit campaign. The decision to reclassify human trafficking is a major step back in tackling this issue nationally. This change of narrative around what is human trafficking is not only an issue within the UK, but all over Europe. The UN have raised concerns about how this crime is being investigated, commenting on how ‘racist stereotyping and xenophobia limit the impact of prevention measures’ against human trafficking. Victims of this crime now face criminalisation more than ever. Having such such a limited understanding on what a victim of human trafficking looks like serves as a major deterrent to those in desperate need of help. Many now fear persecution due to acts committed while being trafficked or deportation back to the countries they fled.
Ways you can you help
We can all do our part to promote social justice to human trafficker survivors. Start by identify what inequalities are still rampant within your local communities and find out different ways you can offer your support. Why not be an ally to a cause that resonates with you?
You can also:
- Fundraise or volunteer for a charity focused on tackling gender bias, poverty, homelessness, racial discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia or an other social injustice.
- Get involved with initiatives run by your local council that promote human rights for all.
- Share content and information on your social media platforms that raise awareness about inequalities in society
- Be an ally, get involved and be supportive of marginalised communities that may not have a voice
- Watch CCAT’s very own Spot the Signs video to learn how to identify the methods of human traffickers
World Day of Social Justice | United Nations
Human Trafficking as a Social Justice Issue – Who we Are – Newcastle University (ncl.ac.uk)
Romania’s sex trafficking trade: ‘There is no other life they know’ | ITV News
Breaking the Silence: Trafficking in Romani Communities – European Roma Rights Centre (errc.org)
Roma rights | Amnesty International UK
UN experts warn of stagnation in the fight against human trafficking (msn.com)
Home Office reclassifies modern slavery as illegal immigration issue | Slavery | The Guardian
Racism and xenophobia put human rights of human trafficking victims at risk – UN expert | OHCHR