By Zoe Tabary
LONDON, Aug 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Middle-class cocaine users are turning a blind eye to the link between their drug habit and sex trafficking, slavery and murder, said the former head of UK drug strategy.
"These are middle-aged, middle-class people at dinner parties," Tony Saggers, former head of drugs threat at the National Crime Agency, told The Times on Tuesday, in his first interview since leaving the post.
"They will find sweatshops abhorrent, slave labour a brutal, terrible thing to be happening in their neighbourhood, and the news that a 16-year-old has been knifed to death in London will shock them," he added.
Britain has one of the highest rates of cocaine use in Europe, according to the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – with 4.2 percent of young adults having taken the drug in 2015.
Saggers said this was funding the exploitation of women in the sex industry, as well as slavery and gun violence.
"The consequences of buying cocaine are more abhorrent than most of what the people using it find abhorrent," he said.
In Britain, there are an estimated 13,000 victims of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, most of them from Albania, Nigeria, Poland and Vietnam.
Saggers said there was a lack of action among employers in tackling the prevalence and acceptance of cocaine use in some industries, particularly among banks and other companies in the City of London, Britain's financial centre.
Companies should address the problem through schemes that educate their staff about the impact of cocaine abuse on their health and wider society, he added.
Tamara Barnett, projects leader at the Human Trafficking Foundation, said "we need to do all we can to emphasise the role the public can play in eradicating human trafficking."
"Highlighting the exploitation and abuse behind certain drug production could make some people think twice before they purchase drugs, or at least twice before boasting about doing something that has for too long been seen just as a fashionable lifestyle choice," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In 2015 a report by the National Police Chiefs' Council found that commercial cultivation of cannabis was used to fund human trafficking.
(Reporting by Zoe Tabary, editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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