Last Tuesday I was chatting to one of my regular studio customers. She was telling me about how a cannabis factory was raided down the road from her in Hale Lane, Mill Hill. She was telling me how the whole house was sealed off as the electricity supply had to be made safe, and several houses expereinced a power cut. I happened to bump into a friendly policeman afterward who was explaining that there are a huge number of these establishments in Barnet, well into the dozens. He explained the way that the business works. Vietnamese people are promised the prospect of well paid jobs in England. They raise huge amounts of money to pay to be brought in illegally. The gangmasters who control the trade, bring them in and then tell them that they have incurred huge debts. These must be paid by running illegal cannabis farms to "work off their debt". These are usually suburban houses, rented by gangs and converted into cannabis farms. These establishments have the electricity meter bypassed (often in a most unsafe manner) and the hapless victims are left to tend and water the plants. Usually they are given only the most basic food and know that any attempt to escape will have serious consequences for family back in Vietnam. In short they are slaves, held in bondage, right next door to us in many cases.
Sadly these are not the only people held in slavery in Barnet. There is also a rather booming market in prostitution. The majority of girls working in this trade in Barnet are immigrants. Again a large number of these, both Eastern European and South East Asian have found themselves working in these establishments following bogus offers of jobs. As they are working illegally and have no means of support they are stuck in a horrible trade, having to endure all manner of degradation. Again traffickers in this vile trade use threats against family back home as one of the tools to keep girls "under control". Again there are reportedly dozens of brothels in the Borough. There were three in Mill Hill Broadway at one point. Disturbingly some of the girls involved in this trade are under age.
The victims of this trade know that as illegal immigrants, there is nowhere for them to turn to for help. A visit to the police station is likely to end in deportation and facing the consequences of gang lords back home. They are stuck in a frightening circle of abuse and exploitation with no way out. The sad truth is that reason these trades exist is because the rest of us are too selfish to care. Girls working in brothels have to pretend to be happy and contented to earn the cash they need to survive. This means that the punters can happily turn a blind eye and tell their mates "they are well up for it and they love it". In short they don't care. In the case of the customers buying the skunk weed, they are probably too stoned out of their heads to care. All they want is to be able to roll their next spliff and who cares who gets hurt in the process. I was chatting to one of my studio customers about the subject and his response was "it's better for them than working in a paddy field". Sadly this is the horrible, selfish and racist attitude of many of us in Barnet. Because these people, held in slavery are not British, there is an attitude that in some way they are less deserving of human rights and protection of the law.
The view of many people (especially those on the right) is that the victims are simply illegal immigrants. If they are caught, they are not our problem. They should be put on the first plane home and sod the consequences. I tend to take a different view. I believe that these people are the victims of our selfish, greedy society and we do owe them some form of reparation. If I tricked a British woman into my house, locked her in the cellar on meagre rations and rented her out to my mates to be raped, you would think me a monster. She would be entitled to compensation under the law and I would be locked up for many years. When the situation happens with young girls from abroad, we have a far more morally ambiguous view. It suddenly becomes "their fault". This news story tells how one Barnet resident was jailed for a mere five years for his involvement in trafficking - http://www.4ni.co.uk/northern_ireland_news.asp?id=120885 - in reality he is probably out of jail already.
Ultimately, both of these horrible forms of slavery will only disappear when the customers start taking responsibility for their consequences of their selfish actions and refrain from feeding profits to the greedy gangs which control this trade. Sadly I suspect that won't happen until the day after I am elected Pope.