By Bernard McGinley

At a full meeting of Hastings Borough Council on 23rd October, councillors debated a detailed motion proposed by leader Peter Chowney on modern slavery, made immediately topical by the grim news breaking on that day of 39 migrants found dead in a lorry in Essex.  

Cllr Chowney explained that modern slavery was to be found in nail shops and carwashes, big fisheries, the building trade and many other places.  The Council could and should oppose it in various ways, including in its procurement processes – challenging any abnormally low-cost tenders, highlighting to its suppliers that contracted workers are free to join a trade union, and requiring its tendered contractors to adopt a whistle-blowing policy which would support staff in exposing any suspected cases of slavery.

In reply for the Conservative Group, Cllr Lee said they fully supported the motion.  

Cllr Maya Evans, council biodiversity champion, then spoke on how climate change impacted on the most vulnerable, and the related issues of water shortage, carbon dioxide (CO2) and ‘the Global South’.  When she went on to discuss Afghanistan and her familiarity with its problems, and proceeded to read from her book on the country, Cllr Lee and others had had enough.  He told her that she was doing a disservice to the motion.

The Chair asked Cllr Evans to sit down. 

Other members then spoke.  Cllr Beaver mentioned the neglected role of funds transfers in modern slavery.  Cllr Turner defended Cllr Evans, and spoke of the importance of changing public attitudes towards the plight of human beings.   Cllr Edwards sympathised regarding exploitation and abuse, but sparked an audible reaction when he described slavery in the East as “part of their culture”. 

Cllr Andy Batsford spoke of slavery in Hastings, and how people in ‘our town’ were terrified and not safe – vulnerable people in local brothels, for instance. 

Responding to the various contributions, Cllr Chowney said that Cllr Edwards was wrong regarding Eastern culture, and as to the numbers of people affected.  He cited the 2015 Modern Slavery Act of the coalition government as recognising the problem. Slavery was more subtle than in the past, including in the abuse of passports. 

The motion was approved unanimously.

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