Church backs action against human trafficking

Thousands of people in Edinburgh have signed a petition calling for an end to the practice of human trafficking, which is commonly regarded as modern-day slavery.

The Stop the Traffik initiative has been backed by the Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who described the practice as a "great evil".

The Rev Carol Ford of St Margaret's Church in Edinburgh, a member of the Scottish Churches Anti-Human Trafficking Group, said many people were unaware that people trafficking happened in cities across Scotland.

Nearly 4,000 people have signed the petition so far which calls on fashion retailers not to sell clothes made by people who have been forced into slave labour in countries like India.

The aim is to put an end to the practice and introduce a living wage, proper contacts and guaranteed freedom of movement.

Dr Morrison and Ms Ford have also pledged their support to the United Nations Gift Box initiative to raise awareness.

The petition also calls for an end to sexual exploitation - forced prostuition.

Dr Morrison and Ms Ford have also pledged their support to the United Nations Gift Box initiative to raise awareness.

Two large, brightly coloured walk-in boxes created to symbolise trafficking were placed in central Edinburgh outside St Andrew's and St George's West Church on George Street and near the Pleasance over a five-day period.

The aim was to illustrate that the promise of a new and exciting life may not be what it first appears.

Inside the box the walls are dark and adorned with information and harrowing first-hand accounts and pictures from victims.

Dr Morrison said: "This is a wonderful initiative because human trafficking, in the form it takes in our world today, is a great evil.

"We need to be doing all that we can collaboratively to bring an end to this dreadful trade.

"The Church of Scotland can encourage all our people to sign this petition that is being promoted by the Edinburgh Presbytery and Salvation Army.

"We call on Britain's governments to do all that they can to encourage retailers to examine their sources very carefully. I'd encourage people to go to the Church of Scotland's Facebook page to like and share our short video to raise awareness."

Ms Ford said she it was "fantastic" that so many people stopped to sign the petition.

"People were amazed that Scotland has victims of human trafficking," she added.

"It is clear there are people living in Edinburgh who do not realise that trafficking happens - there is a lack of awareness about the local context of it.

"Sometimes sex workers are taken from one part of the country to another, particularly if traffickers have been found out.

"Many people were very upset and angry and wanted to sign the petition because they want to do something to try and stop it.

"People are angry that not enough is being done to stop people being coerced and deceived."

Ms Ford said many young people did not need any persuasion to sign the petition.

She added that traffickers were often British citizens who had contacts in poor countries around the world who supplied them with vulnerable people to exploit.

Ms Ford said she would be continuing to collect signatures and would be making the petition available at her church.

The Salvation Army has linked up with the Scottish Churches Anti-Human Trafficking Group to set up market stalls selling 'people' as commodities across Edinburgh during the festival.

The dramatisation is based on the real life stories of victims.

Hazel Watson, convener of the Scottish Churches Anti-Human Trafficking Group, said: "All human beings have intrinsic value and have the right to live with dignity in freedom.

"This drama, shocking as it is itself, is a way of highlighting the reality of human trafficking that is far more shocking. We can all play our part in efforts to combat this horrendous crime."

The two organisations have contributed to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through the Scottish Parliament.

It will create a specific offence of human trafficking for the first time as well as increase the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment.

Human trafficking is being discussed at an event being held at St John's Church on Princes Street, Edinburgh on Friday as part of the Just Festival.