Heroes of modern slavery: Andrew Wallis

1 September 2017

Andrew Wallis has been campaigning against slavery for over a decade. SM celebrates some of the many – and increasing – heroes of modern slavery

The campaigner
Andrew Wallis

Andrew Wallis is just back from New Zealand where he has been talking to the government about introducing modern slavery legislation. The campaigner has been involved in tackling slavery for over a decade, and is now looking to expand internationally with his charity, Unseen. “We have got to have a joined up approach. We think our model of micro to macro, using information from survivors, can help to inform,” he says.

Wallis first came across slavery while his church was working with orphans in the Ukraine. He learned of their vulnerability to slavery when they reached the age of 16 and left the orphanage. Traffickers would turn up on turf-out day, he says, and many were picked up and never seen again. One of his colleagues, also in the Ukraine, ended up having to buy a girl from a trafficker to get her out of the situation.

Back home in Bristol, he read a news report about women being trafficked from Eastern Europe to the US through regional airports in the UK – Bristol included. He decided to act. “I met with a senior police officer who peeled away a layer of the United Kingdom for me and revealed the nature and scale of the problem,” he says. “We had no modern slavery act, and all the police could do was arrest victims for immigration offences to get them out of the exploitation. They would be put in a B&B overnight and then would disappear back to the traffickers.”

Unseen began by providing safe houses for victims. Since its launch in 2008, it has given over 10,000 nights of safe, emergency accommodation to over 150 men and women, and supported many more survivors to access accommodation, mental and physical health care, legal advice and repatriation.

Last year, it launched a Modern Slavery Helpline and resource centre, taking calls from victims as well as following up on tip-offs. “We used our frontline work with the victims to inform the police and protection agencies and governments,” he says.

But Wallis didn’t want to create a charity that just accepted the status quo and provided shelters. Unseen led the call for the Modern Slavery Act 2015, pushing for transparency in the supply chains, and now companies are required to report the steps they have taken each year to combat slavery. Wallis expects that as businesses grapple with the issues, they will develop a plan. He stresses that it is not about admitting guilt. “[Businesses] need to become comfortable about reporting incidences and realising that the world is not going to cave in.

“The genius of this legislation is that it is a blank sheet of paper,” he says. “It is not about compliance mentality – it is a narrative of the business.” Ultimately he wants a culture change, where companies want to do the right thing, but knows it is a slow-burner. “Outside of retail and manufacturing, this is brand new. We need to give them time to develop their strategies. We are talking about a global problem, right down through the supply chains and we have companies having to prioritise and risk assess. We’ve got to allow this journey to develop over time.”

The supplier: Shayne Tyler

The prosecutor: Caroline Haughey

The peer: Baroness Young of Hornsey


The barrister: James Ewins

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