Emily Parker spoke with Ben Cooley, the founder of Hope For Justice, about his new book 'Impossible Is A Dare', his quest to put an end to the modern day slave trade, why he and the charity are successful, and what inspires him to do the impossible.

Ben Cooley
Ben Cooley

Emily: Tell me about Hope for Justice and how it all began.

Ben: We are an anti-modern slavery charity that rescues victims of human trafficking, restores them, and helps reform society. We started a few years back. I heard about the issue of modern-day slavery in Manchester Town Hall. I heard about 27 million people caught in slavery, 1.2 million children a year sold, with two children sold every minute.

When I walked out of that building that night I thought, "Wow, if that was my daughter I would do something." It was the next thought that changed the course of my life, "They are someone's daughter. I should do something." So, I did what any young, passionate, 26-year-old would do; I booked the NEC Arena in Birmingham to tell people about it and we got 5,884 people to our first event. Since then we've grown it to eight locations, and we rescue hundreds of victims of modern day slavery. We have aftercare facilities and school reintegration projects, helping to restore victims of modern day slavery.

Emily: Let's go back to the NEC for just a moment, because booking an arena like that when you're just starting out, is a really bold move. Why did you decide you were going to go as big as you did from the start?

Living In A World Free From Slavery

Ben: It's largely because I believed that a big issue needed a big response and I've always thought big. When people have said, "Why didn't you just do another town hall?", or, "Why didn't you do a small church?", or something like that, I felt it just didn't fit; it didn't suit the vision. I kind of went big or went home and it worked out. We came out with a small profit, which we were able to invest into starting what is the real work now, which is not awareness, it's action, and helping survivors of modern day slavery.

Emily: You've just listed all those action points that you now do, which have come out of numerous years of working and crafting, and connections with people as well.

Ben: It's amazing. You look at people we've rescued, children as young as three months old, and adults up to 58 years old. We've rescued people from factories here in the UK. We have operations going on in America, Norway, Cambodia and we're looking at other countries at the moment. One of the things people say is, "How have you been able to do it?" I say, "It's entirely because of the people I surround myself with." One of the great things a leader can do is surround yourself with people who are more experienced than you, and better than you, more equipped, more resourced and more able than you and that's what I've done. We've got a team that has senior police officers, legal professionals, social workers, and people who've worked in FTSE 100 companies. We've got a really credible and experienced team that are delivering what I believe is a world class service to vulnerable, oppressed people in our world who need our help.

Emily: Certainly awareness of trafficking is changing and is higher than it used to be. Do you know any statistics about what is going on specifically in the UK at the moment?

Living In A World Free From Slavery

Ben: Theresa May would say that when she was Home Secretary there were between 10 and 13,000 victims of modern day slavery. We would say that really is the tip of the iceberg. We have been working across the country; we work with 47% of the British police force and we've uncovered hundreds and hundreds of cases here in the UK. It is a vast problem here, whether that be in sexual exploitation, or forced labour, or domestic servitude. We've helped people who were working in factories making products for some of the most well-known brands in the UK. We've helped women who've been sold into prostitution and we've helped individuals that are in forced labour, with some of them up to 24 years without a day of freedom. It really is a vast problem and a complex problem, and we are working with many partners to try and combat and eradicate it.

Emily: In the book you share Tobias and Eleanor's story, please could you tell me a bit about them?

Ben: One of the great things about this book, is it is littered with stories of people we have helped. I hope when you read it, it is a story of hope and freedom.

My Tobias and Eleanor story is similar to all the other stories in the book, in that they were exploited and sold. They wanted a better life, a better outlook for their lives and unfortunately someone tricked them. When I'm in the UK people often ask me about this and they say, "How does that happen? I don't understand how the process of trafficking happens." Tobias had a hope for a better life. Like many of us he wanted great opportunities for life and someone exploited that vulnerability and that happens. That is the story of hundreds of victims of modern day slavery that we've had in the UK. That was their story and we were able to intervene; our investigators worked with them and were able to get them their freedom. Now they are walking in different shoes; they're walking in freedom, hope, and dignity. There are many stories like that in the book.

Living In A World Free From Slavery

Emily: Why did you call the book 'Impossible Is A Dare'?

Ben: It's largely because whenever I speak at churches or at events, people come up to me and say, "Ben, your vision to live in a world free from slavery, it's impossible, you're never going to do it." I was reading a quote from Muhammad Ali that said, 'Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small-minded men who find it easier to live in a world that they've been given, than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is temporary, impossible is nothing, impossible is a dare.' I just thought wow, that's it! I'm daring to believe we can end slavery; I'm daring to believe that we can help that three-month-old baby that was trafficked into our country and meant for evil, but we can dare to believe that we can change that girl's situation and life. That person that was held in slavery for 24 years, we can dare to believe not only their freedom, but we can dare to believe that their perpetrators can be held accountable, and they have been, and they have been prosecuted. We can dare to believe that we can change the impossible.