The Global Slavery Index estimates that there were 136,000 people living in modern slavery in the United Kingdom (UK) on any given day in 2016, reflecting a prevalence rate of 2.1 victims for every thousand people in the country.
Research conducted by the UK Home Office in 2014 estimated that there are between 10,000 to 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK.1 However, the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) has found this to be only the “tip of the iceberg”2 and indicated that the true numbers are likely to be substantially higher – in the tens of thousands – as many victims are unable or reluctant to report to authorities or may not be recognised as victims of modern slavery even if they do report.3
According to the 2017 annual figures provided by the NCA, 5,145 potential victims of modern slavery were referred through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in 2017 of whom 2,454 (47 percent) were female, 2,688 (52 percent) were male and 3 (less than 1 percent) were transgender. The types of exploitation recorded under the NRM include domestic servitude, labour exploitation, organ harvesting, sexual exploitation, and unknown exploitation. Forty-one percent of all referrals were children (under 18 years of age) at the time of exploitation. Overall, this represents a 35 percent increase in total referrals from 2016 (3,804 cases).4 The top five nationalities of potential victims of modern slavery recorded through the NRM in 2017 were UK nationals, Albanian, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Nigerian.5 These figures, of course, do not consider the unknown number of victims that are not reported.
Of those 5,145 potential victims identified through the NRM in 2017, 46 percent (2,352 cases) were victims of labour exploitation.6 Forced labour in the UK may be found across various sectors, including shellfish and food packaging,7 car washes, nail bars,8 driveway and block paving,9 construction, agriculture, and food processing.10 In December 2016, a gangmaster couple who supplied workers to catch chickens on farms producing eggs for major supermarkets agreed to a settlement of one million pounds for compensation and legal costs for the migrant workers they had exploited. These individuals were not paid minimum wage, had deductions made from their wages, were made to live in squalid conditions, and were threatened or assaulted for complaining.11 In 2017, 11 members of a UK family were convicted of a series of modern slavery offences for forcing at least 18 victims to work for little or no pay for their property repair and paving business and for making them live in sub-standard conditions for up to 26 years.12
There are concerns about trafficking of people, particularly children, for forced criminality. In 2017, there continued to be reports of Vietnamese children being trafficked to the UK and then enslaved on cannabis farms.13 The Modern Slavery Act introduces a statutory defence to protect victims from being prosecuted for crimes they were compelled to commit while under exploitation. While there is evidence that it is being implemented, there are some concerns over its application, in particular the criminalisation of people trafficked for cannabis cultivation, in the UK.14 More recently, there have been reports of trafficking of vulnerable children by ‘county line’ gangs. ‘County lines’ is the police term for gangs from urban areas that supply drugs to suburban areas, and market and coastal towns.15 These gangs use children to deliver drugs, as they are more easily controlled and less likely to be detected by the police, using a range of techniques including intimidation, debt bondage, violence and grooming.16
Forced labour also occurs in domestic work across the UK. In 2017, 488 cases (9.5 percent) of all NRM referrals were recorded as cases of domestic servitude of which 119 cases involved children.17 Victims of domestic servitude include people who have been exploited by their partner, partner’s family or relatives, as well as victims whose exploiters are not related to them.
Migrant domestic workers also experience forms of modern slavery due to vulnerabilities associated with migrant domestic worker’s visa status. Around 17,000 migrant domestic workers are granted a visa to the UK each year18 and are potentially vulnerable to exploitation due to the inability to change employers. While a 2015 Independent Review of Overseas Domestic Worker Visa highlighted that there is a lack of robust data as to the extent of the abuse, it found that the existence of a tie to a specific employer and the inability to change employers or apply for a visa extension were “incompatible with the reasonable protection of overseas domestic workers while in the UK.”19 A recent Guardian report identified a group of Filipino domestic workers who were exploited and abused by their Saudi, Jordanian and Qatari employers in London.20
Forced sexual exploitation of adults and children
The 2017 NRM statistics report Albania, UK, China, and Nigeria as the most common nationalities for referrals for sexual exploitation. They also stated that 34 percent (1,744 cases) of all referrals made in 2017 were cases of sexual exploitation. Of those total cases of sexual exploitation, 559 cases concerned children.21 Foreign victims are generally trafficked to the UK, lured by false promises of jobs, but are then forced to work in the sex industry.22 British and foreign children are groomed by groups of adult males or ‘county line’ gangs and given drugs before being forced into sexual exploitation.23 In 2018, 18 individuals were convicted of offences including sexual abuse, supplying drugs, and trafficking for sexual exploitation in a series of trials over a case involving 700 women and girls who were sexually abused around Newcastle.24
The most common type of exploitation experienced by adult victims who consent to use the Salvation Army’s support services was sexual exploitation and concerned 48 percent of all victims assisted between July 2016 and June 2017. The Salvation Army delivers the UK government’s contract to manage support services for adult victims of modern slavery in England and Wales. The highest number of supported victims were female victims of forced sexual exploitation from Albania, closely followed by Vietnamese and Nigerian women who also primarily reported exploitation in the sex industry.25
In 2016, the joint Home Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Office Unit’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice and support on a possible forced marriage in 1,428 cases. As in previous years, London had the greatest number of cases of forced marriage (307 cases, 21 percent). 157 (11 percent) of the cases that were handled by the FMU had no overseas element, with the potential or actual forced marriage taking place entirely within the UK. Of the cases with an overseas element, the three countries with the highest number of cases were Pakistan (43 percent), Bangladesh (8 percent) and India (6 percent).26 Cases of forced marriage in the context of trafficking are not recorded as part of the NRM and are dealt with separately by the FMU which covers all types of cases relating to forced marriage.
Imported products at risk of modern slavery
While modern slavery clearly occurs within the UK, the realities of global trade and business make it inevitable that the UK, like many other countries globally, will also be exposed to the risk of modern slavery through the products it imports. Policy-makers, businesses, and consumers must become aware of this risk and take responsibility for it. Table 1 below presents the top five products (according to US$ value) imported by the UK from countries that are at risk of using modern slavery in the production of these goods.
Table 1Imports of products at risk of modern slavery to the UK
|Product at risk of modern slavery||Import value (in thousands of US$)||Source countries|
Apparel and clothing accessories
Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
Laptops, computers, and mobile phones
|China, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Russia South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand|
Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana
In the UK, the top imported products (according to US$ value) at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery are apparel and clothing accessories, and laptops, computers, and mobile phones. Clothing from at-risk countries are valued at over US$9 billion and make up nearly 35 percent of the UK’s total imports of clothing. Laptops, computers, and mobile phones from China and Malaysia amount to over US$8 billion. Other significant imports at risk of modern slavery include fish from a range of at-risk countries27 and cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Rice from India and Myanmar is another import at risk of being produced under conditions of modern slavery. The UK imports 33 percent of rice from these two at-risk countries, totalling nearly US$180 million.
Vulnerable British and foreign children and teenagers are potentially at risk of being exploited in a number of ways, including by traffickers who seek to force them into criminality and sexual exploitation. Previous cases of child commercial sexual exploitation in the UK show that targeted children are vulnerable due to neglect at home, previous experiences of sexual and physical abuse, parental drug and alcohol use, or low self-esteem, among other factors. Children who are in care, or who go missing from home or care facilities, can go missing for a number of reasons, including exploitation by traffickers.28 ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking) found that at least 28 percent of children suspected or identified as trafficked went missing from care at least once, including many unaccompanied foreign children.29 Such children tend to be more susceptible to the attention given by traffickers who groom the children through giving of gifts or attention, and then introduce them to drugs and alcohol before subjecting them to sexual violence or forcing them to deliver drugs around the country.30 “County line” gangs target vulnerable children in care and those who do not have immigration status.31
Although domestic trafficking remains an issue in the UK, many identified modern slavery victims are trafficked from overseas.32 Traffickers target foreign women and girls from poor and rural areas and deceive the victims with false offers of employment and a better life in the UK.33 Foreign women who have been trafficked to the UK may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the sex industry, while foreign men tend to end up in situations of forced labour.34 Criminals have been found to exploit UK and foreign citizens who are vulnerable due to learning difficulties, substance addictions, or homelessness.35
Migrant domestic workers are at increased risk of modern slavery, owing to the hidden nature of any exploitation that occurs in private households, as well as restrictions imposed by the Overseas Domestic Workers (ODW) visa that ties a worker to a particular employer, thus leaving them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.36 Domestic workers in diplomatic households are particularly vulnerable as their employer’s diplomatic immunity means they are not subject to national legislation.37 In October 2017, two domestic workers won a landmark case against their former employer, a Saudi diplomat, who allegedly exploited both workers. The Supreme Court justices argued that employing someone in assumed conditions of slavery amounted to trafficking which represents a ‘commercial activity’ outside a diplomat’s official role. Therefore, usual diplomatic protections would not apply. As a result, the domestic workers can now pursue the case against their former employer.38 A 2015 independent review of the visa recommended that in addition to other suggested safeguards, domestic workers in diplomatic households should be employed by the foreign diplomatic mission and not by the individual diplomat.39
Response to modern slavery
The UK government has been active in driving international action to address modern slavery and human trafficking. Globally, of the governments that have taken the most action to combat modern slavery, the 2018 GSI ranks the UK as third behind the Netherlands (1) and the United States (2). Successes include committing £150m of development aid to tackle trafficking, securing the endorsement of over 60 countries to a Call to Action to address modern slavery, and flagship legislation criminalising modern slavery and holding the private sector to account.
The UK government produced a Modern Slavery Strategy in 2014, which was followed in 2015 and 2016 by new legislation. Consolidated criminal offences for various forms of modern slavery were introduced across the three legal jurisdictions of the UK, replacing earlier offences that were scattered across different laws.40 The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA) consolidated criminal offences of human trafficking, slavery, servitude, and forced labour across England and Wales into a single framework and introduced life sentences for those guilty of the most serious crimes.41 Northern Ireland’s new modern slavery legislation, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland),42 also includes the offence of forced marriage, while Scotland introduced the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act43 criminalising trafficking, slavery, and forced or compulsory labour in 2015. In May 2017, the Scottish government published its first Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy detailing its approach and commitment to eliminating trafficking and supporting victims, as mandated by the Act.44 Forced marriage is criminalised under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 in the UK.45
The UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) provides a framework for identifying victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive support. Referrals to the NRM have increased since its inception in 200946 although it is unclear if this is due to increased awareness or increased prevalence of modern slavery. The numbers of positive ‘conclusive grounds’ decisions that determine, on the balance of probability, “it is more likely than not” that the individual is a victim of human trafficking or modern slavery47, remain low. As of January 2018, of the 5,145 referrals received in 2017, only 665 have been awarded a positive ‘conclusive grounds’ decision, with a further 1,049 being awarded a negative decision. Thirty-four cases were suspended, 124 were withdrawn and 3,273 were still awaiting a decision.48
In 2014, a review of the NRM was commissioned by the then Home Secretary Theresa May to examine and make recommendations on six key areas, including identification of victims and decision making.49 This resulted in the establishment of two pilot NRMs in West Yorkshire and the South West of England to test streamlining the NRM process and decision-making. An evaluation of the pilot NRMs revealed that ‘reasonable grounds’ decisions were quicker in the pilot areas, but that the time taken for ‘conclusive grounds’ decisions was similar to non-pilot areas.50 A 2017 National Audit Office report highlighted that the Home Office has been slow in implementing the 2014 recommendations and that conclusive grounds decisions are still taking more than 90 days for two-thirds of all adult and child referrals.51
In October 2017, the Home Office announced a package of reforms to the NRM, including extending the length of time confirmed victims have access to ‘move on’ support, such as accommodation and counselling, the establishment of ‘places of safety’ where victims can access immediate support, and up to six months of ‘drop in’ services for those transferring out of the NRM. In addition, a single, expert unit will be created within the Home Office to make decisions on all cases referred through the NRM by frontline staff. This will ‘separate’ decisions from the immigration system and respond to ongoing concerns that immigration control and NRM decision-making have become conflated.52
ECPAT UK has criticised that the NRM reforms are not far reaching enough to address the specific needs of child victims of trafficking. In addition, ECPAT are campaigning for Independent Child Trafficking Advocates to provide independent representation to all children, including all separated children, rather than those who have trafficking or modern slavery indicators. The government has committed to a national roll out of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates in England and Wales to represent and support children where there are reasonable grounds to believe they may have been trafficked.53 The model is currently being tested in three early adopter sites, due to run until January 2019. The government has not yet date set a date for when national rollout will begin.54In Scotland and Northern Ireland, statutory guardianship schemes for separated and trafficked children are due to be commenced soon, with the Scottish government currently undertaking a consultation on this issue.55 As part of the NRM reforms, the UK government announced that it will align financial support allowances for trafficking victims and their dependents with those received by asylum seekers. While some potential victims will see a reduction in their financial support, pregnant women and those with multiple dependents will see an increase in their subsistence support to reflect their higher essential living needs.56 All potential victims in NRM support will continue to receive specialist support and advocacy.
In mid May 2018, Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support Bill) passed its first reading in the House of Commons without any debate following its passage through the Committee stage in the House of Lords without any amendments.57 This private member’s bill proposes to increase support to victims of modern slavery and seeks to provide follow-up through appropriate and safe accommodation and counselling. If passed, the bill will amend the MSA to put assistance and support during the 45 reflection and recovery period on a statutory footing, and for confirmed victims, a further 12 months of support, including leave for remain for this time, following confirmation of their status as a victim of modern slavery.58 The next stage of the bill will be its second reading in the House of Commons at the end of November 2018.59
The UK government produces an annual report on its progress on modern slavery and human trafficking, which covers progress across all of the UK jurisdictions.60 The Welsh government has established its own Anti-Slavery Coordinator, as part of its Anti-Slavery Leadership Group, to coordinate the work taking place across Wales to tackle modern slavery.61 The Scottish government produced its first annual report on progress in June 2018.62
The UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner was established in 2015 under Part 4 of the MSA. The Independent Commissioner’s role is to encourage good practice by, among other things, making reports, making recommendations to any public authority about the exercise of its functions, as well as undertaking research.63 The Commissioner published a strategic plan in 2015, detailing priorities for the period of 2015-1764 and, to date, has published two annual reports covering financial years 2015/16 and 2016/2017.65 The incumbent Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, resigned in May 2018 to take up a new role, although he commented that, at times, the Commissioner’s “independence has felt somewhat discretionary from the Home Office, rather than legally bestowed.” 66
An inspection of the police’s response to the implementation of the MSA found that there is a growing push at national and regional levels to improve the law enforcement response to modern slavery.67 However, the review noted serious concern over the quality of investigations, including some investigations being closed prematurely. It is also reported that police work is still too reactive and police officers often have little understanding of the nature and scale of modern slavery.68 In November 2016, the government awarded £8.5 million of Police Transformation Funding to national policing to address these issues. In April 2017, the modern slavery police transformation unit (MSPTU) was launched to provide dedicated specialist teams to support all police forces in England and Wales to transform the response to modern slavery. In the first 12 months, the MSPTU has worked with partners to deliver training, established regional coordinators to strengthen local responses and established the joint slavery and trafficking analysis centre (JSTAC) to provide strategic intelligence of the level of the threat across the UK.69
In 2015, the UK government commissioned an independent review of the Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) visa. The purpose of the review was “to consider whether the arrangements for the overseas domestic worker visa were appropriate, given the Government’s commitment to tackle modern slavery.”70 The review recommended, among other recommendations, that ODWs should be able to change employer and extend their stay in the UK for two years beyond the initial six-month validity.71 Changes were introduced to the ODW visa in April 2016, allowing migrant domestic workers to change their employer during the visa’s initial six-month period and permitting those identified as victims of trafficking for the purposes of exploitation to extend their stay for two years.72 Those domestic workers who do not meet the trafficking definition will have no option but to be referred to the NRM where they are likely to receive a negative decision on the grounds that they have constructed allegations against their employer to try and remain in the UK.73 The government has implemented further action to ensure that those who are referred into the NRM within the validity of their initial six-month visa will be able to continue working while their case is considered and at the same time as receiving specialist support and assistance through the NRM.74 However, Kalayaan, a leading UK organisation for domestic workers, claims that the option to change employers in the first six months leaves workers with insufficient time to find new work and makes it unlikely workers will switch employers and escape exploitation.75 For the second recommendation, the government will be seeking applications for organisations to deliver a pilot for information, advice and support meetings for people in the UK on an ODW visa from the summer of 2018.76 However, during the pilot scheme, overseas domestic workers will not be obliged to attend which goes against the recommendation of the review.77 A statement made by Lord Bates in 2016 on behalf of the then Minister of State for Immigration, James Brokenshire,78 declared that the government will introduce a requirement that any employer wishing to sponsor the entry of an ODW will have to register with UK Visas and Immigration. Part of the requirements for registration is that the employer must allow employees to attend information meetings, comply with UK employment law and cooperated with any compliance checks undertaken by UK Visas and Immigration. No further information could be found.79Since 2005, the UK has had a licensing scheme to regulate businesses who provide workers to the agriculture and shellfish gathering, and food processing and packaging sectors.80 The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA, formerly known as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority) is a non-departmental public body that assesses businesses to ensure they meet certain standards with regard to employment, workers receiving fair treatment, and being legitimately employed.81 In April 2017, the GLAA’sremit was broadened to more effectively combat modern slavery across the entire labour market, and it was given new powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to enable its officers to investigate serious cases of labour market exploitation, including modern slavery related to forced labour.82labour The new powers provide specially trained GLAA investigators with powers of entry, arrest, search, and seizure.83 In January 2017, Sir David Metcalf was appointed as the UK’s first Director of Labour Market Enforcement as part of UK government’s strategy to crack down on labour exploitation. The Director is responsible for producing an annual labour market strategy setting out strategic priorities for the three main labour market enforcement bodies, including the GLAA.84
Response to modern slavery in supply chains
The UK government has taken some action to safeguard government contracts from modern slavery. The passing of the MSA resulted in an amendment to the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.85 Although not focussing on public supply chains more broadly, the amended regulations mandate that the government cannot make contracts with businesses that were convicted of slavery, forced labour, and trafficking related offences, according to chapter 2, subsection 71(1).86 When bidding for public sector contracts, businesses must declare that they are compliant with requirements of section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act (to publish a slavery and trafficking statement). If businesses are in scope of this requirement but have not published a statement this is grounds for exclusion from bidding. The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 also transposed EU Public Procurement Directive (2014/24/EU) into UK domestic law. In 2016, Baroness Young of Hornsey introduced a private member’s bill attempting to extend the reporting requirement in section 54 of the 2015 MSA to include all public authorities, among other amendments. The bill was not successful and was replaced by a similar, second private member’s bill, introduced by Baroness Young in mid-2017. However, at the time of writing it has not progressed to a second reading.87 While these amendments have not yet passed it clearly shows there is interest in holding government bodies to the same reporting requirements as business.88
In March 2017, the Welsh government launched a ‘Code for Ethical Employment’ to help prevent modern slavery and other unethical employment practices in their supply chains. The Code covers risk areas, including modern slavery, blacklisting of unionised workers, and zero hours contracts. In addition, it asks organisations to consider paying the living wage as a minimum.89 The Welsh government expects all organisations that receive funding from the Welsh government through grants or contracts to sign up to the Code and encourages other Welsh businesses to do the same. The government has also published supporting guidelines and tools for public procurement officials to help implement the code in practice.90
Business supply chains
The UK MSA has been described as a ‘game changer’ for tackling modern slavery and requiring transparency in supply chains. Section 54 of the MSA requires large businesses to publish an annual statement outlining the action they take to ensure there is no slavery within their own organisation or anywhere in their supply chains. The reporting requirement applies to every British or foreign organisation that carries out business in the UK and has an annual turnover of £36 million (US$ 47.4 million105) or more. Failure to disclose a statement could result in injunctive proceedings against the organisation and continued resistance could result in unlimited civil fines.106 While the content of the statement is not mandated, the UK Home Office provides guidance for businesses on the reporting requirement of the MSA, which was last updated in October 2017.107 Key changes included encouraging small organisations to voluntarily produce a modern slavery statement and new ‘best practice’ guidance in relation to approving and publishing the statement.108
Although the UK is celebrated for its leadership emphasising the role of business to combat modern slavery, the MSA has drawn criticism, such as the failure to create a list of companies that are required to report and a central repository where all statements are filed. The absence of both of these means the Home Office is unable to effectively monitor compliance.109 It is furthermore extremely difficult for public scrutiny to take place without knowing if a company has complied or not. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) currently maintains an online modern slavery registry on a voluntary basis.110 Although it is estimated that 12,000 to 17,000 businesses operating in the UK are impacted by the legislation, only around 6,361 statements have been collated on the BHRRC registry so far.111
The first round of assessments of modern slavery statements show mixed results. An evaluation of UK’s top 100 listed companies found that a handful of leading businesses are taking robust action to identify and respond to modern slavery risks in their supply chains, but the majority are not doing enough. Half of the companies provided no meaningful data on whether their actions were effective in addressing risks.112 Another evaluation notes that companies’ statements are generally very broad and fail to provide details about their modern slavery risk assessments.113
In December 2016, the UK transposed the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive 2014 into national law under the Companies, Partnerships and Groups (Accounts and Non-Financial Reporting) Regulations 2016.114 Companies will be required to disclose their actions to ensure respect for human rights including company policy and outcomes, due diligence processes, and principal risks. It is expected that this will include actions to address modern slavery. The regulations apply to company reports for financial years commencing on or after 1 January 2017.115
The government of the United Kingdom should:
- Pass the private member’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill.
- Sign and ratify ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
- Ensure that police forces thoroughly investigate all allegations of modern slavery through implementing standardised operating procedures on how to investigate cases of modern slavery.
Improve victim support
- Roll out independent child advocate schemes for all trafficked children across England and Wales and ensure similar support in devolved administrations.
- Provide training, including specialist child trafficking training, to all front-line responders (particularly police, social workers, and foster carers) to ensure they understand and can identify indicators of modern slavery, including among those living in the UK without regularised status.
- Introduce independent panels of experts to review decisions at all stages of the NRM process.
Strengthen coordination and transparency
- Ensure the new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner can fully exercise independence to combat modern slavery.
Address risk factors
- Extend the timeframe domestic workers are given to find a new employer beyond the initial six months.
- Ensure that the forthcoming pilot for the provision of information sessions to overseas domestic workers are made mandatory, in line with the recommendations of the independent review.
- Ensure that the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority is adequately resourced to be able to implement their extended mandate across the entire labour market.
Eradicate modern slavery from the economy
- Publish a list detailing which business are required to report on their supply chains actions according to section 54 of the UK MSA.
- Establish a government-run publicly accessible central repository to file businesses’ modern slavery statements.
- Provide guidelines for public procurement officials on modern slavery requirements contained in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.