SHAN SABA says that instead of re-writing the past we should tackle the scourge of modern slavery
As the Black Lives Matters movement has, rightly, gained momentum, many have turned their attention to the representations of Scottish tobacco lords, industrialists and politicians who made their wealth through historic slavery.
But in doing so, we may be forgetting the silent victims of slavery that live amongst us today.
Do not change any street name and forget about tearing down a single statue until we take a good hard look at the massive problem of modern slavery in our country. Then go about ending it.
Last year in Scotland, some 512 victims of modern slavery were referred through the National Referral Mechanism, a framework for identifying potential victims of the phenomenon and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. This is up by 125% from the previous year.
While we cannot change history, we can educate ourselves and learn from the past, and right now we need to address the conditions that allow modern slavery to live, quietly and insidiously, within the fabric of Scottish society.
Modern slavery is a complex crime, often involving human trafficking that treats individuals as commodities by exploiting them for profit or personal benefit. Most victims, some 70% are women and female children.
The victims can be forced to work, usually under appalling circumstances, in drug cultivation or the sex industry, or can end up in the manufacturing supply chain processes of the products that we buy day to day.
Earlier this year, I met one such victim. Despite working brutally long hours in a restaurant serving customers, he went unpaid and knew he faced a beating if he even asked for his wages. He was broken by his experience.
With legitimate labour an expensive commodity, the devastating effects of the Covid-19 crisis, closely followed by the UK departure from the EU, I can only see such a sad story becoming ever more widespread.
In the circumstances, we all have a moral duty as part of our daily lives, to be conscious of the signs of modern slavery and to be always on the lookout for anyone who appears to have been mistreated either by working for nothing or being subjected to physical and sexual violence.
There are many charities and organisations doing their best to combat this glaring issue. The Scottish Government, Police Scotland and charities such as Migrant Help are all working hard to educate and eradicate abuse, but as citizens of this country we need to take a look at our society first before calling for historical change.
Scotland Against Modern Slavery has been running for three years and has had its successes. There is, however, much more work that has to be done and, as we come out of the Covid-19 crisis, let us hope that we have become a more reflective community, willing to take time to support and help those in our society who need help the most.
Victims of modern slavery have been rescued in every local authority area of Scotland. There are many more of them out there and they need help. Save your anger towards our statues and street names until we have tackled, successfully, the contemporary disgrace among us.
Shan Saba is a director of Scotland Against Modern Slavery