Culture Modern Slavery Trafficking

Up in Smoke: Slavery in the Cannabis Industry

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[James Clough]

For the larger part of the last decade, cultivation of cannabis in the United Kingdom has been found to be done by, in many cases, young refugees…

As recently as last week cannabis was legalised in Canada which has created many headlines across the globe with stories in regards to the regulation and implications involving the new laws, some used the legalisation as support for their own countries push for legalisation – particularly for medicinal reasons, some simply arguing their views against with the decision by the Government and in the business world, stories referring to many companies chasing the ‘green rush’ as it is being dubbed with many companies stock prices set to fly through the roof in relation to the news.

But something that isn’t exactly making international headlines as the conversation of legalising cannabis and other related topics gain momentum is news relating to the production of cannabis in the United Kingdom that has been taking place over the last decade. For the larger part of the last decade, cultivation of cannabis in the United Kingdom has been found to be done by, in many cases, young refugees who have been promised a new life by travelling to the UK, only to be enslaved in these hidden cannabis farms subject to gruelling conditions.

Reports dating back over a decade ago and continuing to today in 2018 have found that young children between the ages of 14 – 16 found to be predominantly from Vietnam and China have been trafficked into the UK illegally by organised crime gangs and have been forced to work in cannabis farms situated in suburban houses or flats for 24 hours a day without being let out of these houses, forced to sleep in cupboards or attics in order to provide more room for cultivating the plants.

A story from The Guardian in 2017 found that in 2017 neighbours of one of these flats in Liverpool – which is in the north of England – reported a smell coming from one of the flats to police, when the police inspected the building reported two young boys were found to be manning the cannabis farm hiding under the floorboards, another one of these flats raided in Armagh found the person tending to the flat was living off tins of dog food. Given such grim and damning circumstances that these people have been forced or tricked into, it would be fair to be expect some sort of compassion shown towards them – which unfortunately hasn’t been the case over the time that these cannabis farms in the UK have been established.

Still to this day, more than ten years on when these farms were being discovered by police in the UK, these people inhabiting the farms who had been trafficked to the UK and put in these farms were arrested and taken to court viewed as committing a crime rather than being exploited, forced to fight imprisonment once more. Fortunately, there were cases where judges had recognised these cannabis farms as a form of slavery rather than a choice by the workers trafficked and put in these farms were these people survived convictions but for a larger portion the situation they had found themselves in left them unable to claim asylum and sentenced to prison for cannabis offences and false document offences.

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