Why you should scratch beneath the surface of a cheap manicure…by Cheryl Chapman

Cheryl Chapman from City Philanthropy looks back on the Women for Change Breakfast Club on Human Trafficking in the UK and discusses the role of individuals as agents for change in the fight against modern slavery.

10 November 2015

£10 for a manicure? Sounds great. But the real price is likely human misery and violence, suffered mostly, of course, by women and girls.

The first meeting of the Women for Change Breakfast Club held at the Guildhall on October 14 focussed on human trafficking in the UK has changed the way I look at the world.

As we heard about the murky, exploitative enterprise of human trafficking from world-leading human rights barrister Parosha Chandran, an expert on human trafficking and modern slavery, and the panel – Kate Garbers, Managing Director of Unseen; Dr Lynellyn Long, Chair of HERA and Frances Trevena of the Poppy Project – I and a roomful of City professional women were left shocked by its breadth and scale in the UK.

As we go about our daily lives, we are very likely engaging with modern slaves every day working in nail bars, hotels, domestic service roles or car washes – ‘hidden in plain sight’.

“Human trafficking is a global business worth $98bn a year; sex trafficking accounts for $65bn of that”

People are trafficked into the UK from 98 countries primarily for sexual exploitation and forced labour but also for forced criminal activity and even organ donation. But trafficking does not mean moving people through borders; much is domestic, happening within the UK, within our communities.

These ‘slaves’ – for that is what they are – who may have their passports confiscated; who may be as young as 13 (around 30% of trafficked people are children); who may be the daughters of slaves such is the cyclical nature of this epidemic; who are likely experiencing fear, hopelessness, pain and desolation, often don’t even recognise themselves as slaves or trafficked; self-identification is one of the many barriers in dealing with this issue.

With statistics such as these this could have been a depressing start to the day. But in fact it was empowering. As well as hearing of the tragedy of human trafficking, we also learned that trafficked women and girls survive and, with the right support, can flourish. We learned of the work of organisations and our own government in taking positive action to address what is the fastest growing crime in the world and how we can take action to help eradicate it.

We heard that The Modern Slavery Act which came into effect in March is a good, though at times, controversial piece of legislation, imposing new penalties on those involved in trafficking, those buying the services of traffickers and also on businesses who must now make sure their supply chains do not in any way support trafficking.

We also heard from three great charities on how they are creating escape routes for those enticed into trafficking with the promise of a new life or an education:

  • Unseen is working towards a world without slavery both on the frontline by providing survivors a safe place to recover from trauma and rebuild their lives and to affect supply and demand through its policy and influencing work.
  • Poppy Project, was set up in 2003 to provide high-quality support, advocacy and accommodation to trafficked women. They work with women to create individual support plans and have received up to 3,000 referrals and provided support to more than 1,000 women to access their rights as survivors of trafficking in UK.
  • Hera (Her Equality Rights, and Autonomy) empowers trafficked women through entrepreneurship, training, mentoring, and grant-making programmes across Europe and the United States, providing survivors with the professional skills, networks, and financial resources to pursue their career ambitions. Some have created their own businesses and employed others.

In the hour I listened and questioned these experts, I realised I have to look harder at what is happening under my nose and question more. Human trafficking is happening because we are blind to it. This event opened my eyes and my mind. There are things we can all do to end this free-trade of flesh.

We can call 101 if we are suspicious about a cheap nail bar or car wash. How can we tell it might be involved in trafficking? – Does it only take cash? Do the workers avoid eye contact or conversation? Are their signs of people living on the premises?

We can work with charities like the three we heard from; offering facilities where they can meet and train people or becoming business mentors to trafficked women.

We can make referrals to them if we know trafficked women or girls in need of help.

We can start talking about this issue with the people we know.

We can inform our own businesses about the obligations they now have under the new transparency in supply chains legislation; we can discuss it with our boards and encourage a review of policies accordingly.

Slavery and human trafficking is happening all around us. Reach out in some way and help make it stop.



Looking for help?

If you are looking for help, want to report a suspicion or are seeking advice,
call the Modern Slavery Helpline on

08000 121 700

If its an emergency and you believe someone is in imminent danger, call