Could the Olympic Games become a breeding ground for human traffickers?

A Scene from ‘Act Like It Never Happened’ (Photo courtesy of Dominic Hedges)

A new play by a young East Ham playwright exposes a seedier kind of business that could benefit from the Olympics.

Act Like It Never Happened by Dominic Hedges tells the story of a human trafficking ring set up in London to benefit from the mass market the Games could provide.

Dominic Hedges wants the play to expose the international nature of the problem. He says that the Olympics can have a positive impact on the area.

But he worries that this means that these ‘very real issues are in danger of being swept under the carpet’……

The play is supported by Stop the Traffik. The anti-traffiking charity says they have uncovered evidence of gangs moving women to the East End in the hope of capitalising on an increased demand for sexual services during the 2012 Olympics.

The government estimates that 4,000 sex workers are illegally trafficked into the UK each year. And for a long time anti-trafficking campaigners have been warning that those figures could increase sharply over the Olympic period. Just last week, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper renewed calls for the government to take a tougher stance on the problem as the Games approach.

‘Act Like It Never Happened’ (Photo courtesy of Dominic Hedges)

Dominic Hedges says that past Olympic games and the World Cup in South Africa attracted increased human trafficking.

However evidence of trafficking, based on past sporting events is often disputed. And the assertion is contested by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who say they have found no link between sporting events and sex trafficking. They even claim that focusing on the link between the Olympics and sex trafficking could actually harm the victims. Because as the police crack down on the practice, those victims may be less likely to come forward.

But charities say its not just sex trafficking- its a problem of human trafficking as a whole, whether that means sexual exploitation, street begging and pickpocketing or forced labour. Dominic Hedges agrees….

Act Like It Never Happened is on at The Space until the end of the week.

We’ll be exploring this further when we talk to Paul Donohoe from Anti-Slavery International.


Local taxi driver fears impact of increased congestion

Heavy congestion is expected on Newham’s roads during the Olympics Photo: nicobobinus/flickr

Iqbal from Express Taxis in Newham has been driving cabs around East London for 20 years.

He is excited about the Olympics coming to his home borough.

But he fears that hugely increased congestion on the roads here will mean his business is just not commercially viable….


Iqbal from Express Taxis is concerned about the impact of congestion on the roads around the Olympic Site

The problem is Iqbal’s cab is not metered. He estimates that clogged up roads could mean that a journey that usually takes 5 minutes and costs £5, could take 4 or 5 times longer. And he doesn’t think that customers will be willing to pay £15 or £20 for the same distance. He is worried that fare rises of this magnitude could irreparably damage his firm’s reputation. But if he doesn’t charge more, he feels it could hardly be worthwhile turning up for work.

This week Transport for London (TfL) voted down a proposed 22% fare rise for black cabs during the Olympics. The Licensed Drivers Association responded by warning that 40% of its members would not work unless evening rates applied during the day. TfL has however approved a 20p increase to the £2.20 “flag fall” – which is the minimum fare applied to the meter when a passenger gets into the taxi.

But for cabbies like Iqbal who drive without a meter, the situation is even more difficult. He says he has no choice but to try to work during the Olympics. Ultimately though, he fears that he may lose out to the Games.

Will council plans win favour at Queens Market?

Newham Council have finalised their development strategy for the borough which highlights plans for Queens Market on Green Street.

A market has stood on the site for 111 years and has deteriorated in the last decade with two failed attempts at renovation.

Firstly, Asda’s big plans failed in 2006. Then property developer St. Modwen had their follow-up designs rejected in 2009 due to it’s inappropriate 31-storey tower block.

The council lost patience with St. Modwen and assumed control and running of the market. A new roof costing £140,000 has done little to stop water leaking through and stall-holders tell me customers are still on the decline.

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Newham Council have declared Green Street one of their strategic sites for development and want to add larger retail units but keep providing for small independents.

“Green Street town centre will maintain its specialist ethnic retail identity with a local to international draw, popular market place and independent shops and quality evening offer that continues to evolve……Queen’s Market will be an important meeting place for the local community as at present, reinforced through co-location of other community uses”.

Despite use of vague council language it does suggest that they are looking to retain the market but build both housing and more retail space on this site and the surrounding are.

This is where we reach the important stumbling block. It seems that the council insists that the current market can’t be maintained or updated and needs to be rebuilt if it is to stay. Stallholders and shoppers meanwhile are worried about a temporary location during building work as well as increased rents when a new market is completed.

Locals are in agreement that the Olympics are great for Stratford and some are looking forward to increased footfall in Green Street this summer. Currently the best days for the market are when West Ham United play at home. This is where the second problem for the market lies.

The council are still keen for the football team to be moved to the Olympic stadium. The Boleyn Ground would then give an “opportunity to create an exemplar urban village development, incorporating high quality housing, community uses, and community green space.”

Stall-holders I spoke to are worried this loss of custom could be more damaging than any supermarket’s ideas.

Initial signs show that these new plans for the market aren’t welcome. The council need to win favour with the community. West Ham’s potential move makes this process even harder.