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Modern slavery

‘Modern slavery is an umbrella term that encompasses human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced labour. 

Someone is in slavery if they are: 

  • forced to work through mental or physical threat; 
  • owned or controlled by an ‘employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse; 
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’; 
  • physically constrained or have restrictions placed on their freedom.’  

Servitude is similar to slavery, as a person is obliged to provide a service to another which is imposed upon them, but there is no sense of ‘ownership’. 

Forced work is work or provision of a service which a person has to undertake under threat of a penalty and where the person has not offered themselves voluntarily. Forced work exists in a number of different industries including manufacturing, food processing, agriculture and hospitality. 

Human trafficking is when men, women and children are moved from one place and forced into exploitation. Their forced movement could be from one country to another, but may also be within a country – from one city to another or even within just a few streets. A person is a victim of human trafficking even if they have not been exploited but that is the intention of such movement. 

The scale of modern slavery in the UK is significant. Modern slavery crimes are being committed across the country and there have been year on year increases in the number of victims identified. The Home Office estimated there were between 10,000 – 13,000 potential victims in 2013 (LGA, 2018). 

The Care and Support Statutory Guidance (Department of Health and Social Care) lists modern slavery as a type of abuse. This is the first time that it has been categorised as a safeguarding adults concern, as it recognises the abusive nature of such situations. 

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 specifies that public authorities have a duty to notify the Secretary of State of any individual identified in England and Wales as a suspected victim of slavery or human trafficking. For more information on local support, contact the local safeguarding adults team at the local authority or the local police force via their switchboard. 

Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion. It can include abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or of a position of trust or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). 

Human trafficking is actively being used by serious and organised crime groups. This problem has a global reach, covering a wide number of countries. It is run like a business with the supply of people and services to a customer, all for the purpose of making a profit. Traffickers exploit the social, cultural or financial vulnerability of the victim and place huge financial and ethical obligations on them. They control almost every aspect of the victim’s life, with little regard for the victim’s welfare and health. 

Whilst modern slavery is a global problem, there are many victims living in the United Kingdom (UK). They may have been brought here from overseas, but may also be vulnerable UK citizens who are forced to work illegally against their will or who are otherwise exploited. 

There is no typical victim of slavery – victims can be men, women and children of all ages and ethnicities, across the population. But it is usually more prevalent amongst the most vulnerable, minority or socially excluded groups in UK society. 

There are a number of different types of modern slavery. People can be subjected to more than one type at once. The most common forms are: 

  • Sexual exploitation: victims may be forced into prostitution, pornography or lap dancing for little or no pay. They may be deprived of their freedom and be subject to threats and violence. 
  • Labour exploitation: victims have to work for little or no pay, and may face violence or threats. If they are foreign nationals, their passports may be confiscated by their exploiters which prohibits their return home. They may be forced to live in terrible conditions. 
  • Forced criminality: victims can be forced into illegal activities, including pick pocketing, shop lifting, cannabis cultivation, exploitation across county lines and other activities. The Modern Slavery Act provides for a defence for victims who have been forced into criminality. 
  • Organ harvesting: victims are trafficked for their internal organs (typically kidneys or the liver) to be taken (‘harvested’) for transplant. 
  • Domestic servitude: victims work in a household where they may be ill-treated, humiliated, subjected to long and tiring hours, forced to work and live in very difficult conditions or forced to work for little or no pay. Sometimes, forced marriage can lead to domestic servitude. 
  • Debt bondage can be a part of many forms of exploitation. Debts may result due to the exploitation itself, in relation to accommodation and / or travel fee. Victims often have little or no control over their debt and little or no way to pay it back. Costs may be taken directly from their wages, leading to further debts accumulating. A person may be forced to work to pay off the debt; it can also be used to control the victim and keep them enslaved. 

Other forms of exploitation include: 

  • forced marriage: where people are forced into marriage for a range of reasons including exploiting their rights as a result of citizenship, or for domestic servitude; 
  • financial exploitation: for example where benefits are falsely claimed and / or bank accounts opened by perpetrators on behalf of their workers; workers’ wages being paid directly to exploiters by companies who think they are paying a worker. 

Adult Victims 

  • distrustful of authorities; 
  • expression of fear or anxiety; 
  • signs of psychological trauma (including post-traumatic stress disorder); 
  • the person acts as if instructed by another; 
  • injuries apparently a result of assault or controlling measures; 
  • evidence of control over movement, either as an individual or as a group; 
  • found in or connected to a type of location likely to be used for exploitation; 
  • restriction of movement and confinement to the workplace or to a limited area; 
  • passport or documents held by someone else; 
  • lack of access to medical care; 
  • limited social contact/isolation; 
  • limited contact with family; 
  • signs of ritual abuse and witchcraft (juju); 
  • substance misuse; 
  • person forced, intimidated or coerced into providing services; 
  • doesn’t know home or work address; 
  • perception of being bonded by debt; 
  • money is deducted from salary for food or accommodation; 
  • threat of being handed over to authorities; 
  • threats against the individual or their family members; 
  • being placed in a dependency situation; 
  • no or limited access to bathroom or hygiene facilities; 
  • self identifies as victim. 

Indicators of Forced or Compulsory Labour 

  • no or limited access to earnings or labour contract; 
  • excessive wage reductions, withholding wages, or financial penalties; 
  • dependence on employer for a number of services for example work, transport and accommodation; 
  • any evidence workers are required to pay for tools, food or accommodation via deductions from their pay; 
  • imposed place of accommodation; 
  • found in poor living conditions; 
  • evidence of excessive working days or hours; 
  • deceived about the nature of the job, location, or employer; 
  • employer or manager unable to produce documents required when employing migrant; labour; 
  • employer or manager unable to provide record of wages paid to workers; poor or non-existent health and safety equipment or no health and safety notices; 
  • any other evidence of labour laws being breached. 

Indicators of Domestic Servitude 

  • living with and working for a family in a private home or place of accommodation; 
  • not eating with the rest of the family or being given only leftovers, or inadequate food; 
  • no private sleeping place or sleeping in shared space for example the living room; 
  • no private space; 
  • forced to work in excess of normal working hours or being ‘on-call’ 24 hours per day; 
  • employer reports them as a missing person; 
  • employer accuses person of theft or other crime related to the escape; 
  • never leaving the house without permission from the employer. 

Indicators of Sexual Exploitation 

  • adverts for sexual services offering individuals from particular ethnic or national groups; 
  • sleeping on work premises; 
  • movement of individuals between brothels or working in alternate locations; 
  • individuals with very limited amounts of clothing or a large proportion of their clothing is ‘sexual’; 
  • only being able to speak sexual words in local language or language of client group; 
  • having tattoos or other marks indicating ‘ownership’ by their exploiters; 
  • person forced, intimidated or coerced into providing services of a sexual nature; 
  • person subjected to crimes such as abduction, assault or rape; 
  • someone other than the potential victim receives the money from clients; 
  • health symptoms (including sexual health issues). 

The guidance also gives indicators for spotting signs of modern slavery in children. 

Taking Action 

Anyone who suspects modern slavery is happening should not attempt to let the victim know their situation has been reported, nor should a professional attempt to confront the traffickers. The safety of the victim and the professional is the first priority. 

Immediate Threat of Harm 

If it is suspected that someone is in immediate danger, the police should be contacted on 999. 

Adult Social Services Safeguarding Adults Team 
Telephone: 01708 433550
Fax: 01708 432497

Other Agencies who can Help are: 

  • the police can be contacted on 101; 
  • Crimestoppers can be contacted: 0800 555 111; 
  • the Modern Slavery helpline can be contacted: 0800 0121 700 

Where a person is considered incapable of giving informed consent as they lack mental capacity (see Mental Capacity), an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate should be appointed to help them make decisions. The person should still be at the centre of the decision making process.