Trafficking: The Human Element

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In the United Kingdom today, there is a distinct lack of public awareness surrounding the conditions in which cannabis is produced. Viewed as a relatively harmless drug by many, people do not have knowledge of the role in which human trafficking plays in the journey from seed to sale – something that we cannot allow to happen any longer. Rooted in Chains is a campaign that will stand up for these vulnerable individuals, and raise awareness on the unacceptable link between the commercial cultivation of cannabis and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals in the United Kingdom.

Every year, thousands of people are trafficked to the UK for the purpose of illegal cannabis production. They are often threatened, starved, physically abused, prostituted, and locked up in isolation and hazardous conditions for months and even years. They rarely know what part of the world they are in, let alone the wider picture that surrounds the plant they are growing. They have no money, cannot speak English and are imprisoned.

Bao was kidnapped at the age of 14. He had been living homeless in Vietnam for several years after the death of his parents and grandparents. Vulnerable to gangs, he was eventually trafficked to China, where he was forced to work, whilst being starved and beaten. He was later transported to the UK, where for months on end he tended to a cannabis plantation. After the police raided the property, he was arrested and a lawyer advised him to plead guilty to cannabis cultivation, even though he was clearly a child and a victim of human trafficking. Tung was 15 years old when he began work. He was held as a cannabis slave for several years, living alone in the darkness. Similar to Bao, when the flat was raided he was sent off to prison. The experiences of Bao and Tung are the reality for most victims of this industry, which begs the question: how, as a society, have we found ourselves in a position where innocent victims are mistreated first by criminals and then mishandled by our government?

The UK government has been aware of the connection between trafficked persons and cannabis production for a number of years, yet little has been done to combat the problem. Despite the publication of guidance procedures, reports and new legislation, children are continually unidentified as potential victims of trafficking; viewed as criminals, these victims are with drug or immigration offences, which can carry a maximum sentence of fourteen years.

Compounding this problem is the context around the victim’s situation. Many times, when a child comes into contact with law enforcement or local authority care, they struggle to interact. Many are terrified of retaliation from their captors, whilst others disappear – alone in an alien country – and can end up trafficked again. This was the case for Tung, who rang his trafficker out of fear on the first night he was living with his foster family. With the Government failing to provide substantial emotional and financial resources to victims, these children can spend months in immigration detention, deported with little money or support. These factors all merge together to create the perfect storm of sorts – individuals are alienated, scared and feel as if nobody is on their side.

The current approach that the UK government has taken to both cannabis as a plant – illegalisation – and to the trafficking surrounding the market – ignorance – has failed. Too many innocent victims are made to work in inhumane conditions, subject to massive suffering, and all of this for a plant that should be legal. As more evidence comes in from legalisation-experiences around the globe, it is time for the UK government to step up to the plate and stop human trafficking in cannabis. As a campaign, Rooted in Chains notes the obvious – illegalisation has failed, and the prohibition of cannabis must end. For this to work effectively, a functioning, regulated market must be set-up. However, the journey ahead of us is a long one. Thus, until this long-term solution can be affected, we will do all we can to minimise the harm caused by illegalisation, and to try and better the lives of those subject to such cruelty.