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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

DUPS A-Team: Is your Cannabis Use Funding the Human Trafficking of Vietnamese Children?

Written and researched by Bryony Singleton and Annabel Gallocher for A-Team Durham

(Illustration: Matt Murphy for the Observer)

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug in England and Wales, with around 965,000 young adult users.[1] Not much is known by the end user about the drug’s cultivation, and often users are unaware of their role in a supply chain which involves a darker reality. Alarmingly, many people are unaware that in buying and using cannabis, they may be contributing and unintentionally supporting the exploitation of children. Human trafficking is a by-product of Britain’s increasing cultivation of cannabis, with vulnerable Vietnamese children specifically falling victim to abuse and exploitation.[2]

The NSPCC reported that in 2012 Vietnamese children made up 81% of victims of human trafficking for cannabis cultivation. More recently, ECPAT reported that in 2016, 227 Vietnamese children were identified as potential victims of modern slavery in the UK. As evidenced by the 2017 ECPAT film, a high number of vulnerable Vietnamese children are being trafficked to Britain to grow drugs, such as cannabis, in British houses.[3] The film depicts two young Vietnamese boys accepting work in the UK in order to send money to their families back in Vietnam. Once arriving in the UK, they are taken to large houses or factories and told to take care of the cannabis plants, namely to work as ‘gardeners’. Many are threatened with violence or death if they try to escape. [4]

Children are expected to manage serious risks of fire caused by hot lamps often hooked to overloaded and faulty electricity sockets.[5] Working in these environments causes exposure to dangerous pesticides, which are likely to take a toll on the children’s health. Additionally, the use of trafficked children in the cultivation of cannabis is only the tip of the iceberg. Philip Ishola, former head of UK’s Counter Human Trafficking Bureau, notes that often the same children are exploited in several different ways, including being sexually abused.

Although Britain may be viewed as a liberal state, intolerant of such heinous crimes including slavery, the 150% increase in cannabis farm operations between 2000 and 2014 is evidence that exploitation is ever increasing.[6] Police believe Britain has become a large exporter of cannabis[7] and combining this with the demand for cannabis by users in Britain, the consequential human trafficking schemes are likely to only expand unless something is done to crack down on these operations.

The most worrying part is that people turn a blind eye to the dark side of their habit. Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns at ECPAT UK states that ECPAT has been receiving referrals regarding exploited Vietnamese children involved in cannabis cultivation for more than a decade now and says “I think many people are unaware of the exploitation in cannabis supply chains.”

It is clear that many users of cannabis are unaware of the impact of their habit, thus highlighting the need for greater awareness to be raised of human trafficking and the ways in which our own actions may be contributing to violations of human dignity.

This is where A-Team comes in. Founded in September 2016, we are a pro bono project, supporting A21 campaign, seeking to help tackle the issue of human trafficking, through means of fundraising and research.

“We only have two choices: do nothing or do something”, Tony Kirwan, Founder and President of Destiny Rescue.

You can find out more about us on our Facebook page - @ateamdurham.


[1] Home Office Crime Survey for England and Wales 2015/16

[2] ECPAT: Secret Gardeners, 2017

[3] ECPAT – ‘Secret Gardeners’ Video

[4] Ibid

[5] Trix – Modern Slavery – Criminal Exploitation of Children in Cannabis Cultivation, April 2017

[6] Ibid

[7] Transform, ‘Modern Slavery – a cost of the war on drugs’, 18th Oct 2017

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are listed in the bibliography above.

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