Sports trafficking and the Commonwealth Games: Talking to Jess Phillips MP

Published 16 November 2021

As a Birmingham based MP, you must be anticipating exciting changes and developments in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games in 2022. But what sort of changes, whether they are positive or negative, do you see in your constituency in the run up to the Games?

Every day in my constituency we experience the grass not being cut in the parks, and our playgrounds falling into rack and ruins. The children have very little places to play. I think there is a jarring nature about why this ‘fancy’ event is happening.

Of course, it is not the same government money, but that doesn’t stop people feeling less positive about it. For example, the number 11 bus, which is one of the longest bus routes in Europe, has been diverted due to the construction of the Games. It is now a longer route, which stops in my constituency, off-loading a lot of confused people.

However, I do think it will positively touch the whole city in many ways. Considering every school in my constituency has a student from a different Commonwealth country, it is something we need to celebrate.

How were you first made aware of the issue of trafficking through sport?

I was first made aware of this issue when CPA UK reached out to me. It is when you are made aware of the issue that you understand how aspirational young people can be exploited in this way. It will not just be young people, but anyone with aspiration, especially individuals without resources.

I think what a lot of people fail to realise is that being an elite sports person costs a huge amount of money and investment, and this creates a barrier for talented people around the world. Hope can be a dangerous currency.

How do you think other parliamentarians can be made aware of trafficking through sport? What do you think is most effective?

A way to get parliamentarians involved and engaged is by having one-to-one meetings and talking to them directly about the project you would like them to be involved with.

There is also great power in using real life examples from survivor advocates, as their stories are always the most impactful when thinking about the issue of trafficking.

Modern slavery is something I personally come across week in week out in Birmingham, but for some parliamentarians, it won’t happen in or around their constituencies. Therefore, telling these stories is important to help portray to parliamentarians the issues that can occur, from the people who are most knowledgeable on the issue.

The best and quickest thing I can do is to talk to the organisation running the Commonwealth Games to discuss trafficking through sport, and the ways the organisation are addressing this issue. My city is a great place, and we don’t want to talk about dark things, however this issue still remains important.

It is also vital to talk to the young people in colleges and schools in my constituency, as this is another powerful way to promote the issue. Your communication materials, such as the poster and leaflet, are the sort of campaigns that my constituents will learn from and will encourage them to report any suspicious cases to me as their parliamentarian. This is what we want to encourage.

This interview originally appeared in the November 2021 Issue of the Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking Newsletter.