The 2018 Global Slavery Index, the most comprehensive ever study on the issue, estimates that there are 136,000 people living in modern slavery in the UK today, equating to 2.1 victims for every 1,000 people in the country.
Previous estimates from the Home Office in 2014 had suggested a figure of up to 13,000 victims in the UK. However, the National Crime Agency has since commented that this was just the “tip of the iceberg”, which is confirmed by today’s landmark report.
Mr Andrew Forrest, Founder of the Walk Free Foundation, said: “The responsibility that developed countries have for modern slavery, revealed by this new data, is a huge wake-up call. The pressure to respond to this appalling human crime must shift from poorer countries to richer nations that have the resources and institutions to do much better. It is flourishing right under our noses.”
“It’s widely accepted that most crimes go unreported and unrecorded, because the victims are marginalised and vulnerable, and the black economy thrives where accountability is absent. This report demonstrates, straight from the mouths of some of the 40.3 million victims of modern slavery, that these are deplorable crimes continue to happen out of sight, and at a tragic scale.”
“We cannot sit back while millions of women, girls, men and boys around the world are having their lives destroyed and their potential extinguished by criminals seeking a quick profit.”
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). The UK government’s attempts to combat modern slavery and provide transparency shows international leadership on the issue.
Walk Free also commends the UK government for being the first globally to release a national estimate of modern slavery. The UK’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act is a flagship policy which is beginning to hold the country’s private sector accountable for forced labour in its operations.
The 2018 GSI found that forced labour in the UK is prevalent in various sectors including car washes, nail bars, driveway and block paving, construction, agriculture, and food processing. Some of the data within the study is based on the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the system through which victims can make the National Crime Agency aware of their situation.
The types of exploitation accounted for within the report include domestic servitude, labour exploitation, and sexual exploitation. In the UK, the top five nationalities of potential victims of
modern slavery recorded through the NRM in 2017 were UK nationals, Albanian, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Nigerian.
Kevin Bales, CMG, Professor of Contemporary Slavery and Research Director, the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, said: “I’m proud to point to the leadership of the UK government in the fight against global slavery, its Modern Slavery Act isn’t perfect, but it stands as an example to other countries. The UK is in stark contrast to those countries that turn a blind eye to slavery, or worse, practice state-sponsored enslavement. While North Korea is the most serious example of a nation enslaving its own citizens, there are others that use the excuse of ethnicity or religion to remove rights and exploit those within their borders – all in violation of international law.”
“Equally important is the good news this edition of the Global Slavery Index further reveals how all governments are responding to slavery, giving companies a guide to where to invest. The GSI also clarifies the risk slavery brings to all of us, through the products we buy, and points to specific actions to be taken to reduce that risk. Finally, the Walk Free research team continues to push forward the boundaries of how we can measure this hidden and slippery crime.”
From an international perspective, the UK is also a major importer of at-risk goods likely to have been produced through forced labour. Cumulatively the UK imports over $18bn worth of these products annually, ranking fourth within the G20 behind only the United States ($144bn), Japan ($47bn) and Germany ($30bn).
The five largest product imports into the UK by volume that are at-risk of being produced through modern slavery, are garments ($9.2bn), electronics ($8bn), fish ($480m), cocoa ($285m) and rice ($177m). Many of these products are imported from countries with comparatively high levels of forced labour including China, India, Myanmar, and Côte d’Ivoire.
In addition to the data itself, the report also makes recommendations to the UK government, as to how it can enhance its efforts to combat modern slavery across several key areas of society and business. This includes the strengthening of existing legislation, improving victim support, addressing vulnerabilities within the job market, and working to eradicate forced labour from the national economy.
Further stories and breakdown of key findings from the Global Slavery Index 2018 from the Walk Free Foundation include:
G20 countries are importing $354bn of at-risk goods annually, fuelling demand for slave labour, with the majority still not acting against these practices:
The US has an issue with modern slavery both at home and importing goods at-risk of being produced through forced labour from overseas:
North Korea has the highest prevalence of modern slavery globally, with one in ten of the population victims of modern slavery:
More than a third of victims of modern slavery are victims of forced marriage: