Last updated: 17.08.17

Modern slavery and human trafficking 'prevalent in UK'

Modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK

Modern slavery and human trafficking are much more prevalent in the UK than you might expect. Since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, there has been a greater level of transparency around the issues of modern slavery and human trafficking, with many companies required to publish statements providing insight into the ethics of their supply chains.

Despite this, in 2018 the National Crime Agency (NCA) published statistics showing that during the third quarter of the year, 1,750 potential victims were submitted via the National Referral Mechanism, a 6% increase over the previous quarter. The Home Office estimates the true number of victims and survivors of modern slavery in the UK is nearer to 13,000.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery covers the recruitment, movement, or harbouring of adults and children through force, and coercion, whether that’s through abuse or deception. People can be brought in or out of the UK (trafficked) to be exploited or sold into slavery, or it can happen within the UK’s borders.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 categorises several offences, including slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour, and human trafficking. Within these terms there are many types of exploitation, including domestic servitude, labouring, and sexual exploitation.

One of the most common types of slavery recorded for adults and minors is labour exploitation, which includes the cultivation of drugs, while around 35% of victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Human trafficking often involves crossing international borders, but it’s also possible to be a victim of slavery within your own country. According the NCA’s statistics, slavery victims in the UK originate from a total of 85 different countries, with victims from Albania, the UK, and Vietnam being the most common.

Types of human trafficking and slavery

There are several types of human trafficking and exploitation, including:

Sexual exploitation – any non-consensual or abusive sexual acts, including forced prostitution, escort work, or pornography.

Forced labour – a victim being made to work long hours in hard and often unsafe conditions by coercion, threats, or abuse, while all or most of their wages go to their traffickers.

Domestic servitude – a victim being forced to work in a private household, often with very restricted freedom of movement and in poor conditions with very little or no pay.

Organ harvesting – trafficking people to be used as organ donors for transplants, largely driven by the high demand for kidneys. 

Child exploitation – anyone under 18 who is subjected to these types of exploitation. Children are often targeted because of their vulnerability, and around a quarter of all victims referred in the UK are under 18.

Why does it happen?

Victims of human trafficking typically come from disadvantaged backgrounds and situations of poverty. If they have very few opportunities in their own country, they may be offered an apparently good job in the UK by a trafficker, and then have to borrow money to travel.

When they arrive in the UK, they find the job isn’t at all what they were promised, and the conditions are extremely poor. The traffickers will then often take away their passport and force them to pay off the debt through violence or threats against them or even their families back in their home country.

Slavery often occurs within the supply chains of manufacturers and the harvesting of raw materials such as cocoa and cotton, or the production of consumer products like clothing or mobile phones. With so many stages to the process involving so many producers and distributers, it can be hard to track whether or not a product has been produced using slavery.  

Part of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires certain types of companies to publish information about their supplier and production chain to hopefully ensure there’s nowhere for exploitation to hide.

Your responsibility

With the illegal exploitation of vulnerable individuals expected to increase, it is vital that professionals in safeguarding positions are able to identify the signs that could indicate someone is a victim of modern slavery or human trafficking.

Ensure you and your employees are fully aware with appropriate training with our Trafficking, Exploitation and Modern Slavery e-learning course.

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