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Review of the characteristics of human trafficking and anti-modern slavery interventions and policy


Modern slavery refers to slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking, as defined by the United Kingdom’s (UK) Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Modern Slavery Act, 2015: c.30, 01). Victims of modern slavery face exploitation and human rights violations. Modern slavery is a well-hidden crime within which there are many types of perpetrators who face high profit and low risk in many countries (Walk Free Foundation, 2018). It is estimated that in 2013, there were 10,000 – 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK alone (Annual Report on Modern Slavery, 2018: 08). However, it is likely that there are in fact many more victims of modern slavery than estimated, considering that it is often run by organised crime networks and many victims are incapable of or unwilling to report crimes against them.

This review aims to describe the prevalence and characteristics of modern slavery in the UK, current interventions aiming to prevent modern slavery and provide support to victims, and the effectiveness of current interventions.


Aims and Objectives

This review aims to answer the following research questions: ‘What are the characteristics of human trafficking in the UK?’, and ‘What interventions are involved in combating the issue?’. The objective of the review is to provide an overview of modern slavery in the UK and contribute to the body of knowledge on this subject.

Literature Search

A desk-based review of published and peer reviewed studies as well as grey literature on modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK was conducted. Studies were identified through internet searches. To be included in the review, studies and reports had to be written in English, published after the year 2000, report characteristics of human trafficking processes, forms, perpetrators, and/or victims in the UK or describe the components and outcomes of policies or interventions designed at preventing human trafficking or providing services to victims of human trafficking in the UK. A study/report was excluded from the review if it was written in another language other than English, published before the year 2000, or did not focus on the characteristics of human trafficking in the UK or components or outcomes of human trafficking-focused policies or interventions in the UK. A title and abstract screening was undertaken at which point inclusion and exclusion criteria was applied.

Data Analysis

A thematic analysis (TA) approach was used with the aim of identifying and assessing patterns, or ‘themes’ that emerge through the existing literature. Data was categorised according to whether it reported prevalence, characteristic, intervention component, or intervention outcome. Themes which emerged through the literature allowed the researcher to identify issues which are shared amongst a wider group, for example the difficulty obtaining accurate figures of modern slavery victims. The data collected from various literature was then organised into categories in accordance with the themes identified. In order to give readers a better understanding, specific examples were used in some instances, for example the typology of perpetrators of modern slavery and trafficking.

State of the Literature

Literature on modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK describes a variety of forms of enslavement, such as forced labour, bonded labour, debt bondage, child labour, sexual exploitation and trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced marriage. Much of the research available demonstrates the nature of, and the ways in modern slavery occurs in today’s society. Most literature is enslavement in the form of sexual exploitation, with less focus placed on labour exploitation and other types of exploitation/slavery. A majority of studies are qualitative and use secondary data, for example police reports or reports from non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Re-framing and of secondary data and the use of different definitions of trafficking by agencies, organisations and countries leads to difficulty in obtaining accurate facts and figures surrounding the topic.

Characteristics of Modern Slavery

Prevalence of Modern Slavery

It is estimated that in the United Kingdom in 2018, 136,000 people were exploited in different forms of modern slavery, with the estimated proportion of the population to be living in modern slavery to be 2.08 out of 1,000 people (Global Slavery Index (GSI), 2019). In 2017, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) documented 5,145 reports of potential victims of modern slavery, a 35% increase from 2016 (NCA, 2018: 01). Out of reported cases, 2,454 victims were female (47%) and 2,688 were male (52%), 3,027 (59%) were referred for adult exploitation categories and 2,118 (41%) were referred for exploitation as a minor (National Crime Agency (NCA), 2018: 05). Potential victim estimates put forward by the NRM are low in comparison to the Global Slavery Index (GSI) estimates, which highlights the difficulty in obtaining definitive figures of the issue. Differences in methodologies for measuring prevalence may also cause varying estimates. The GSI used secondary data combined with extrapolation from some eastern European countries where random sample surveys had been accomplished to provide an estimate of slavery in the UK at 0.013% of the national population, or approximately 8,300 individuals (Bales, Hesketh, Silverman, 2015: 18). Results also may vary due to changes in definitions implemented by the authors. For example, critics have stated that the GSI alters their definition of modern slavery each year which, in turn, makes comparing data more difficult (Gallagher, 2017: 91).

Differing definitions of ‘modern slavery’, ‘victim’, ‘exploiter’, ‘perpetrator’, and ‘trafficker’ is one reason why measuring modern slavery, especially across countries with different legal definitions and between agencies or organisations with their own unique operational definitions, is difficult. Challenges to data collection also include barriers to reporting that victims experience. Many victims may not understand they have been exploited. Victims are often afraid to report their experience to law enforcement, either fearing they will face punishment, due to migration status for example, or fear that their exploiters will retaliate. These ‘micro’ factors inhibiting accurate reporting and data collection are often a result of the social and cultural phenomena related to the types of exploitation in a community, city, and country; as well as broader environmental factors. The types and forms of exploitation and resulting impact on victims’ ability and willingness to report their own exploitation are vastly different from the majority of victims’ experiences in the United Kingdom to those in South Asia, for instance.

Evidence of modern slavery in the UK consists of a lot of gaps, and while estimates are based on cases that have been made known to the authorities, the figures likely underestimate the true scale of exploitation. This prevents policymakers and practitioners from achieving a complete understanding of modern slavery and from developing effective interventions to tackle the issue.

Victims of Modern Slavery

Britain is both a source and destination country for victims of modern slavery, with rising numbers of British citizens being identified as victims of modern slavery (Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, 2019). Potential victims of modern slavery and exploitation who are UK nationals has increased by nearly 100% since 2017, from 820 referrals of potential victims (UK nationals) in 2017 to 1,625 referrals in 2018 (NCA, 2019: 01). Potential victims can be adults, children, male or female. The NRM end of year summary for 2018 notes the number of victims of modern slavery reported was 6,993 (a 36% increase from the previous year) which comprised of 2,728 females (39%), 4,261 males (>60%) and 4 recorded as transgender (<1%), 3,856 (55%) referred as adults and 3,137 (45%) referred as a minor (NCA, 2019: 05). These statistics were made up of victims from 130 different countries; the top three countries being the UK, Albania and Vietnam (NCA, 2019: 01).

Common risk factors include poverty, poor educational attainment, a lack of cultural and/or social capital, and homelessness. Many victims have already faced abuse in their life, including childhood sexual abuse. Generally, victims of modern slavery are often recruited when highly vulnerable (for example when battling a substance addiction or homeless) and when they display low self-esteem, poor judgement, neediness and lack of support systems (Slavin, 2002). These characteristics allow for manipulative predators to gain the trust of their victims. Exploiters may claim they will ‘protect’ and ‘care’ for the individual and promise them hospitality, domestic, and retail work (Roby, 2005: 139).

Perpetrators of Modern Slavery

Most modern slavery offenders in the UK were convicted of sex trafficking offences. It has been found that perpetrators of the crime tend to be mostly male; for example two thirds of those suspected by the Greater Manchester Police of modern slavery crimes were male, with one third being female (Gadd et al, 2017: 01) and near three-quarters of offenders were aged between 25 and 59. The offenders included European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and non-EEA nationals. The principal incentive for these offenders was the perceived high profit-low risk of conviction (Cooper et al., 2017: 05).

These studies both suggest that there is not a ‘typical’ offender when looking at perpetrators of modern slavery. While offenders use different ways to recruit, control and exploit victims, consistent patterns were visible to the researchers (for example, in most cases it was found that the victims were often recruited and exploited by a stranger).

A study undertaken by Cockbain and Brayley-Morris (2017) on human trafficking and labour exploitation in the casual construction industry describes Romany, Gypsy or Traveller (RGT) offending groups in the UK. The key features of the offender groups from this study were:

- “Thirteen male offenders, two female

- Offenders were all Irish

- Travellers (a narrower subset of RGT)

- Offenders were typically based in England in Autumn and Winter and travelled to varying degrees around the UK and abroad in Spring and Summer

- Each case involved multiple offenders—groups of three, five, and seven respectively—linked by close familial ties of kinship and marriage

- Offenders were aged 15–59 years old at the point of arrest, with a median age of 27 years

- Intelligence suggested many of the offenders had long been involved in this form of labour trafficking, some starting as early as their mid-teens

- Ten of the fifteen offenders had prior criminal convictions and together they had previously been convicted of 110 offences.

- Their criminal histories ranged from limited (one prior conviction) to extensive (27 convictions).

- A close examination of their criminal records pointed towards an opportunistic and generalist approach to offending, of which labour trafficking formed just one part.

- Only one prior conviction clearly linked to labour exploitation.

- Prior convictions were most commonly for acquisitive offences such as theft from person, shoplifting, or burglary and motoring offences such as driving without a licence or insurance, with excess alcohol, or while disqualified” (Cockbain, Brayley-Morris, 2017: 134).

The study found that these offenders primarily recruited in impoverished areas and amongst populations with a high portion of substance abuse. Recruitment locations included soup kitchens, homeless shelters/hostels, day centres, job centres, parks, and streets. Victims were all recruited willingly on the promise of shelter, payment and food, but once they agreed, they found they were controlled through means of violence, threats, psychological coercion and emotional manipulation (Cockbain, Brayley-Morris, 2017: 134).

Types of Modern Slavery

The most common reported exploitation type among potential adult victims was labour exploitation (44%) followed by sexual exploitation (39%). These statistics did not change greatly when looking at potential child victims, for whom the most common reported exploitation type was also labour exploitation (48%), followed by sexual exploitation (27%) (Annual Report on Modern Slavery, 2018: 11).

Types of modern slavery in the UK include the following forms of exploitation.

Forced Labour

Victims are forced to work and are unpaid, rarely paid or underpaid. Victims may work for businesses or people that are unrelated to the offenders, often in low-skilled jobs which may be legitimate, but wages are withheld often through control of the victims' bank accounts. Forced labour also occurs in remote locations, where victims tend to live on their exploiter’s property in extremely poor conditions, usually experience repetitive abuse from their exploiters and are very rarely paid.

Domestic Servitude

Victims can either be exploited by a stranger or a partner and/or relatives. Victims are expected to undertake large amounts of household chores and duties. Sometimes, individuals who have fallen victim to domestic servitude has done so through an arranged/forced marriage. Victims are often sexually exploited and abused alongside coerced servitude. Children can also be exploited into domestic servitude, often when they live with extended family members. Victims can similarly be exploited into domestic servitude by strangers, who may not let them leave their home.

Sexual Exploitation

Victims can be trafficked for the purpose of commercial sex work. This may take place in brothels or in legitimate businesses, for example massage parlours. Forced commercial sex work or commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) also occurs in locations that are not fixed, such as street-based, client’s homes, hotels, or ‘pop up brothels’. Some victims are confined to residential sites at the control of their exploiters. Abuse may be for the gratification of the offenders or for commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Victims may be moved from location to location regularly.

Criminal Exploitation

This can take the shape of forced gang related criminal activity, usually within drug networks. Victims are often children used as drug mules. Victims may be forced to work for illegal purposes, for example being forced to cultivate cannabis in private residences. Victims can also be coerced into petty crimes such as shoplifting and pickpocketing in exchange for food or accommodation from their exploiters, but are rarely paid. Some victims are frequently transported to various locations and are forced to beg in the streets for money. Some have been trafficked to the UK and sold to an exploiter who marry the victim with the aim of gaining immigration advantages. The exploiter may also sexually abuse their victims. Criminal exploitation can also take the form of financial exploitation, where the victim's identity documents are taken and used to claim benefits. This form of exploitation is rarely practised outside of organised criminal networks (Cooper et al, 2017: iii-iv).

Indicators of Modern Slavery

Indicators that someone is being exploited include physical and psychological abuse (such as being malnourished); Victims tend to appear unkempt or anxious, withdrawn or may have untreated injuries. Victim’s may rarely be allowed to travel on their own or seem as if they are under the control/influence of others. Victims may rarely interact with others or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work. Another indicator can be certain relationships that the victim has. Certain relationships may not seem normal - for example a young teenager appearing to be the boyfriend/girlfriend of a much older adult.

Victims of modern slavery may be stuck living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and/or living and working at the same address. Victims may keep unusual travel times or curfews and they may be dropped off/collected for work on a regular basis either very early or late at night. They may also have unusual travel arrangements, for example children being dropped off or picked up in private cars/taxis at unusual times and places.

Some exploiters ensure that their victims have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work. It is often the case that victims avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear law enforcers, such as not knowing who to trust or where to get help, fear of deportation, and fear of violence to them or their family (Unseen, n/d).

Current Interventions Combating Modern Slavery in the UK

National Referral Mechanism

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) was introduced in the UK in 2009 in compliance with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (House of Commons, 2018: 12). The NRM aims to identify victims of modern slavery and human trafficking and ensures that once the victims are identified they receive appropriate care. The National Crime Agency (NCA) is responsible for the implementation and oversight of the NRM. Potential victims of modern slavery who are European Economic Area (EEA) nationals are processed through the NRM, those who are non-EEA nationals (or EEA nationals subject to immigration control) are processed by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) (House of Commons, 2018: 12). Once the referral is made, if the relevant authorities decide they have “reasonable grounds” to believe the referred person is a victim of a form of modern slavery, the potential victim is eligible to a 45-day reflection and recovery period, when they can access services such as those provided by the Salvation Army (Lipscombe, Beard, 2014: 09) and should consider if they are willing to take part in a criminal investigation.

When the 45-day period is over the relevant authorities; which includes front line staff such as the Police, UK Border Agency (UKBA), the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC, part of the National Crime Agency) or, where the case of trafficking is connected to a wider immigration or protection claim specialised UKBA teams are utilised (The Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group, 2010: 72), reach a conclusion regarding the potential victim. If the decision about the potential victim is positive, the victim, including those who would not normally be allowed to remain in the UK such as a foreign national, may be given a temporary residence permit, and once the conclusive decision is made, the victim is then assisted in recovery and rehabilitation. If the victim is a foreign national, assistance in seeking asylum may proceed. Children who have been recovered are assisted in returning to their home country if they so wish to, and if it is in their best interest to return. Adults may be given the option of assisted or unassisted voluntary return (The Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group, 2010: 73).

Research undertaken by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) suggests that “(in the case of adults) the NRM puts too much emphasis on issues concerning immigration status rather than the fact that the individuals whose cases were the subject of referrals were potentially victims of crime” (The Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group, 2010: 53). Furthermore, it was found that despite the 45-day period in which the relative authorities make a conclusive decision regarding the potential victim, two-thirds of those referred in 2016-2017 waited at least 90 days for a conclusive grounds decision (National Audit Office, 2017: 33). Additionally, NRM data cannot be analysed in great detail, for example numbers on the types of businesses victims were involved in (e.g. forced domestic servitude). The outcomes of the recovered victims are also not collected once they have received the two weeks of support from the NRM and the Salvation Army. Following this, victims do not receive any further support and therefore there is no guarantee that once recovered victims have not been re-trafficked (House of Commons, 2017: 12-13).

Habitual Residence Test

EEA nationals, including victims of modern slavery, undertake the Habitual Residence Test in order to access (limited) welfare support. This means the victim must prove they have the right to reside in the UK, and that they are habitually resident. When the test is passed, the victim is able to access Jobseekers Allowance for three months, but housing benefit is not awarded. Victims have the right to reside in the UK if they register at the Jobcentre and look for work. However, even when a victim is able to do this, they are still obliged to prove they are a habitual resident to the UK in order to have access to benefits.

The term ‘habitually resident’ however, is not defined in legislation. This means that decision makers can consider an array of factors including, but not limited to:

- The length of time someone has been in the UK;

- Their reasons for coming to the UK;

- Their likelihood of finding work;

- Previous work in the UK;

- Whether they have an open bank account;

- Whether they own property in the UK (Citizens Advice, 2019).

Other evidence that is often required includes original documents proving when the applicant arrived in the UK, such as a payslip, tax documents, or travel documents. Often, people who have been victims of modern slavery are unable to provide any such documents. This results in many victims falling through the gaps in support. This puts vulnerable people at risk of extreme poverty, and possibly the risk of being re-trafficked. The Human Trafficking Foundation have stated that: “There is no standard structure in place for an ongoing care plan or established support pathway so it really is a matter for individuals themselves (or if they have them, dedicated caseworkers) to find the best options available to each individual. This leaves a high risk that some individuals will fall between the gaps” (Human Trafficking Foundation (VMS0024), 2016: 02).

The Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA)

As outlined in the 2016 Immigration Act, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) became known as the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA); a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) governed by an independent board made up of a chair and six members. The aim of this body is to prevent modern slavery and to protect those who are vulnerable or those that have been exploited. Since 2005, the GLAA has inspected and regulated the activities of gangmasters (labour providers) in the farming, food processing and shellfish gathering industries across Britain (GLAA, 2017: 01). The GLAA ensures that labour providers are fit to hold a licence and that providers comply with GLAA licencing standards, which covers “health and safety, accommodation, pay, transport and training” as well as tax, National Insurance and VAT regulations (GLAA, 2019). If gangmasters do not meet standards, their license can be revoked. New businesses must apply for a gangmasters licence, and The Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 made operating as a gangmaster without a licence a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and/or a fine, while entering into an arrangement with an unlicensed gangmaster can lead to a maximum of 6 months in prison (Gangmasters Licensing Act 2004: S.12, S.13). A criminal investigation is carried out if there is speculation that a labour provider may not be complying with GLAA standards.

The GLAA states that the benefits of licensing are:

- “Workers receive fair treatment, the pay, benefits and conditions they are entitled to.

- Labour providers are not undercut by those who pay less than the minimum wage or avoid tax.

- Industry standards are raised.

- Labour users can check their workers come from a legitimate provider and are informed if their labour provider’s licence is revoked.

- Consumers can be assured that their food has been picked and packed in an ethical environment.

- Illegal activities which lead to a loss of public revenue – income tax, VAT and NI – are reduced” (GLAA 2019).

The 2016 Act, which changed the GLA to the GLAA, resulted in trade unionists losing their place on the board for the GLAA. This has led to some representatives of trade unions stating that within the GLAA there is a “general lack of political will” to tackle labour exploitation and claims that “the GLAA may have been driven by political expediency rather than by concern for workers” (Schenner, 2017: 369). Furthermore, concerns regarding financial constraints; particularly since public spending cuts and austerity measures undertaken due to the 2008 financial crisis, and a shortage of staff within the GLAA was noted by participants who stated that the main problem surrounding the GLAA is that it is not properly funded. The money that is generated by crime is owned by the UK government, part of which goes back to the investigating body. However, due to the nature of the industries that the GLAA oversees (agriculture, horticulture, fishing etc), the money is difficult to recover, and so the GLAA loses out on funding. (Schenner, 2017: 370). This issue may link to the perceived bias the GLAA displays in only prosecuting gangmasters involved in larger scale abuses of labour constituting organised crime, rather than gangmasters committing smaller scale transgressions (Schenner, 2017: 369). Organised crime (in the context of forced labour) is a highly profitable crime, generating over 150 billion US Dollars globally, per year (Schenner, 2017: 370).

Other issues regarding the GLAA include a narrow remit, i.e. the sectors under the jurisdiction of the GLAA are too limited. In a 2017 study (Schenner, 2017), all five NGO members and both trade union members taking part stated that this was an issue, while none of the Home Office officials, employer organisations’ representatives or gangmasters suggested this to be an issue (Schenner, 2017: 371). If the agency wishes to do so, the GLAA is able to expand its remit of sectors, or to narrow them further.

Services Supporting Victims of Modern Slavery

Once recovered, victims of modern slavery often need a range of services to support and help them recover from severe mental and physical trauma. These services include: “medical and dental care; food, clothing and housing assistance; counselling; immigration and legal assistance; literacy and education; employment and training services” (Idris, 2017(B): 03). A 2013 study carried out by the Salvation Army looked into the support needs of male and female victims of modern slavery. The key findings included:

- “The main health needs for men at initial assessment were physical injuries (sustained during the trafficking situation), dental care and asthma; whereas for women the main presenting health needs were headaches/migraines, physical injuries (sustained during the trafficking situation), high blood pressure and gynaecological problems.

- Problematic alcohol use at the point of referral was significantly lower than reported prevalence once clients have been in residence for a longer time.

- The main emotional support needs expressed by men at the initial assessment stage were distress, fear of the trafficker and depression; whereas for women the main emotional support needs were distress, depression and symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

- More than twice the proportion of men than women did not disclose any emotional support need at this stage of assessment.

- Victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation disclosed more emotional support needs than other ‘types’ of trafficking at the initial assessment stage.

- A high proportion of men (91%) presented as destitute. The main support needs for men at initial assessment were accommodation and subsistence, with support in finding employment, need for clothing and assistance with repatriation also figuring highly.

- Access to counselling and signposting to immigration advice were support needs reported in a significantly higher proportion of women than men” (Salvation Army, 2013: 27).

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is a charitable organisation which manages the delivery of support to all adult victims of modern slavery (and any dependants) who have been identified through the NRM. The support provided includes the initial identification of the victim, transportation to a place of safety, accommodation in a safe house when required, and access to a variety of specialist services depending on each victim’s needs. The Salvation Army was contracted through the ‘Adult Human Trafficking Victim Care and Co-Ordination Contract’ in 2011, which was then changed to the ‘Adult Victims of Modern Slavery Care and Co-Ordination Services Contract’ with the Modern Slavery Act (2015). Potential victims who wish to access the support provided by the salvation army must consent to being referred to the NRM. Once referred, the potential victim must receive a positive reasonable grounds decision (i.e. reasonable grounds to believe someone may be a victim of modern slavery). Following this, the victim will then receive support on how recover and build a life either in the UK, or to return to their home country conditional on the “needs, wishes and entitlements of the person concerned” (The Salvation Army, 2018: 04). According to Salvation Army Data, the top 10 nationalities entering the support service since 2011 are as follows:

The highest number of referrals came from the police (27.69% in 2017/18), closely followed by the Home Office (24.95%) (The Salvation Army, 2018: 13). It was found that barriers exist in the identification of, access to and enabling support for potential victims of modern slavery who are incarcerated, which is reflected in the fact that 50% of males had been spent time in prison or in detention before they were identified as a potential victim of modern slavery (Hestia, 2018: 03). This creates a considerable delay in providing support to these victims, with 15% more incarcerated potential victims than non-incarcerated potential victims unable to access supportive services because they were could not be contacted (The Salvation Army, 2018: 13). In order to improve support for imprisoned potential victims, or potential victims retained in Immigration Reception Centres (IRCs) and Detention Centres (DCs), new procedures were developed so that the potential victims can be identified with minimal delay. In these new procedures, Salvation Army transport staff “[keep] in direct contact throughout the process with every member of staff at the IRCs involved in the release of the potential victim for onward transport” (The Salvation Army, 2018: 22).

The Salvation Army has taken several approaches aiming to improve support to recovered victims of modern slavery in general. This includes consulting with Northern College in South Yorkshire which developed the ‘Free Thinking Programme’, the first of its kind in the UK (The Salvation Army, 2018: 20). The aim of this programme is to help victims prepare for living and working in the UK, as well as providing further education which can help combat against re-victimisation, build self-esteem, trust, independence as well as working skills (Northern College, 2018).

The Salvation Army noted an increasing number of victims who suffer from drug and/or alcohol dependency. Research found that victims are often coerced into taking drugs and alcohol, and many would be paid in such substances rather than money (Parkes, 2018: 15). In turn, the Salvation Army informs agencies who commission and deliver substance misuse services and aims to encourage local authorities to “take a strategic lead in developing effective pathways for victims to receive substance misuse support” (The Salvation Army, 2018: 21).

Medaille Trust

The Medaille Trust was founded in 2006 and provides support, care and safe housing for those who have been recovered from trafficking and slavery. The trust states that their primary mission is “the empowerment of women, men and children, who have been freed from the human-trafficking and the modern day slavery industry in the UK, enabling them to regain their dignity and self-worth. This is done by providing safe housing and offering opportunities for physical and psychological healing, rehabilitation and protection to the victims in our care”. They advocate for the three P’s approach:

- “Pursue: Prosecute and disruption of individuals and groups responsible for human trafficking and modern slavery.

- Prevent: Prevent people from engaging in and being a victim of human trafficking and modern slavery

- Protect: Strengthen safeguards against human trafficking and modern slavery by protecting vulnerable people from exploitation and increasing awareness of and resilience against this crime” (Medaille Trust, n.d).

The Medaille Trust also implements education and awareness interventions. The Trust aims to educate people “in the definition of Human Trafficking; the effects of Human Trafficking and the different types of Human Trafficking” (Medaille Trust, n.d). The Trust is able to provide resources to schools and colleges which teach students about the realities of human trafficking and modern slavery. When organisations such as the Medaille Trust raise awareness on the topic steps toward tackling the issue can be made. Many organisations use preventative interventions in order to help tackle modern slavery which aim to raise public awareness on the issue through educating communities about the risks of human trafficking and modern slavery (Idris, 2017(A): 03).

Anti-Slavery International

Anti-Slavery International is a British charity which was founded in 1839, and aims to tackle all forms of slavery worldwide, including:

- Forced labour

- Debt bondage

- Human trafficking

- Descent-based slavery

- Worst forms of child labour

- Slavery in supply chains

- Forced and early marriage

- The exploitation of migrant workers in conditions amounting to slavery

The charity hosts and chairs the organisation “Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group” (ATMG), a coalition which was established in 2009, with the purpose of reviewing and scrutinising law and practice surrounding modern slavery. ATMG created an Alternative Modern Slavery Bill with the aim to “assist in the scrutiny and strengthening of the Modern Slavery Bill, […] The provisions contained within this Bill are those which the ATMG feel are imperative for inclusion in UK anti-slavery legislation to ensure it is robust, comprehensive and world-leading” (ATMG, 2015: 01). The aims of the provisions within this bill was to encapsulate a varied range of offences that would capture all forms of modern slavery, such as victim protection measures which also includes a defence for victims who have been coerced into committing crimes. The bill has seen the creation of the statutory National Referral Mechanism and made room for the role of Anti-Slavery Commissioner role, as well as a focus on tackling slavery within supply chains (Anti-Slavery International, n.d.).

In 2018, the Home Office planned to cut the weekly support budget for recovered victims of modern slavery (who then went on to seek asylum) by 40%, making the weekly payment to recipients a mere £37.75 per week down from £65 per week. This meant that recipients of the weekly support struggled to purchase vital necessities, and this in turn had negative effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of those in need of support. In April 2018, Anti-Slavery International won the campaign for the Home Office to reverse these cuts, with the judge referencing the wider duties that the Home Office holds in order to provide adequate support and care to the victims of modern slavery (Anti-Slavery International, 2019).

Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) UK

Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) UK is an organisation which takes a rights-based approach towards protecting and preventing children from trafficking and exploitation. ECPAT UK provides young victims of slavery/trafficking with a weekly youth programme which allows those recovering to come together in a safe space, providing a sense of community as well as giving youth an opportunity to participate in the work of the organisation. Many participants have gone on to be recognised for their contributions towards the programme, with a number earning awards, university places and contributing to research influencing policy (ECPAT UK, 2018: 13). The organisation also conduct training for frontline professionals. The training programme seeks to build the capability of frontline staff, such as social workers, foster carers, police officers and healthcare professionals, to identify and respond accordingly to suspected cases of child trafficking and exploitation (ECPAT UK, 2018: 15). From 2017 to 2018, ECPAT UK trained over 500 professionals on how to identify a potential victim of slavery/trafficking (ECPAT UK, 2018: 14).

Other Interventions Tackling Exploitation

Often, the main focus on tackling human exploitation has been through preventative measures, with little focus on prosecutions. Despite these efforts to tackle modern slavery, it has been pointed out that interventions in fact only have rather limited effectiveness (Idris, 2017(A): 02) and a variety of reports emphasise “the need for information campaigns to target specific groups and advocate action rather than simply raising awareness.” (ibid). Evaluations have also been found to recommend protection measures should be linked to interventions in “health, education, social protection and livelihoods” and that legislation should be focussing on the improvement of labour and working conditions (ibid). There are many steps community bodies may take to help combat slavery in their local area. Partners that councils can work with include:

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)

Local Enterprise Partnerships are voluntary partnerships established between local councils and businesses. These partnerships are set up with the aim of helping to determine local economic priorities while also encouraging economic growth and job creation in local areas. LEPs also gives the opportunity to raise and discuss the issue of modern slavery with a variety of partners while raising awareness of the risks of modern slavery throughout the supply chain.

Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs)

Local Strategic Partnerships are non-statutory bodies. Membership spans from public, private, voluntary and community sectors who work in the local areas. LSPs encourage the use of initiatives and services that support one another and encourage working together more effectively. LSPs also enable information sharing, spreading awareness of the signs of modern slavery and how to report any such issues.

Health & Wellbeing Boards

Health & Wellbeing boards produce Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNAs) which analyse the needs of the local population. These then inform the commissioning process for health services. These boards encourage closer working between health and social care agencies.

Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASHs)

There are local authorities which have developed multi-agency safeguarding hubs, for example the Cheshire West and Chester Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) which has subsequently worked with the local authority to develop a set of ‘neglect indicators’ to identify potentially neglected children (Stanley, 2018). MASHs tend to include members from children’s social care, law enforcement, health and education as well as other local agencies. These hubs allow for information sharing between agencies at an early stage, which allows professionals to identify children or vulnerable adults at risk of harm, as well as bring these professionals together to ensure that at-risk individuals are adequately protected and supported. Children at risk of exploitation may be referred to a MASH. The hub then uses multi-agency protocols to begin a coordinated and cross-organisational response to modern slavery referrals (Local Government Association 2017: 47).

Current Policy: How Effective is the Modern Slavery (2015) Act?

It has been noted by some critics that UK anti-trafficking policy leans toward a suggestion that the perpetrators of modern slavery and trafficking are “ruthless, mostly foreign, organized criminals” (Sharapov, 2015: 95). This is evident in the 2011 UK Human Trafficking Strategy, which has seen the UK Home Secretary encourage the importance of a strong UK border as well as tougher law enforcement (UK Government, 2011: 3). This has led critics to state that such rhetoric stems from a growing perception of threat to the way of British life, and that this is reflective of the growing narrative towards fear and exclusion of the (foreign) “other”, which feeds the political and public demand for increasing controls of cross-border movements of people (Sharapov, 2015: 95).

The Modern Slavery Act

The Modern Slavery Act (MSA) 2015 was brought into fruition in order to merge criminal offences relating to modern slavery, including: slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour and human trafficking. The act also aimed to increase the parameters in which law enforcement agencies are able to address modern slavery, while also increasing the support provided to victims (Blair, 2016). The Act applies to public and private companies, who are required to adhere to the provisions of the Act if they have a global net turnover of £36 million plus, and if any part of the business functions in the UK (Reurts, 2017). In compliance with section 54 of the Act, businesses who meet this criterion must publish a statement clarifying the steps the company has taken in ensuring there is no modern slavery in the business or their supply chains.

Transparency in Supply Chains

The implementation of the UK’s MSA (2015) placed an emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility to protect vulnerable workers through transparency in supply chains. Clause 54 of the act “requires large commercial organisations supplying good or services, and carrying on a business in the UK, to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year. The company must state the steps it has taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or its supply chains, or it must state it has taken no such steps” (Home Office, 2019: 07). The aim of this was to encourage businesses in the private sector with a turnover of £36 million and over to increase transparency and level the playing field between companies that were already acting in a responsible manner and companies that still needed to change their policies and practices.

Despite these efforts, it has been reported by stakeholders that “the broad nature of the requirements and the lack of a specific definition for ‘carrying on a business’ have resulted in ambiguity over which companies are in scope” (Home Office, 2019: 09). This lack of clarity results in difficulty for ‘external observers’ (such as consumers or NGO’s) to identify which companies are required to comply. This allows room for companies to neglect their responsibility in ensuring all workers are safe.

The 2015 Act also allows companies to regulate what their slavery/human trafficking statement contains. This has resulted in poor and vague statements, which do not necessarily provide insight into how companies address the prevention of modern slavery within their supply chains. When the MSA (2015) was introduced, no public body was appointed to be in charge of monitoring compliance of transparency within the supply chain for companies, rather, it was intended for the public, investors and NGO’s to take on this role (Home Office, 2019: 12). With no public body monitoring companies, it is likely that companies do not feel as pressured to comply. While the Act allows the Secretary of State to issue injunctions to non-compliant companies, no company has ever received an injunction, resulting in “almost all the expert advisers agree that a more robust and systematic approach to tackling non-compliance is necessary” (Home Office, 2019: 13). Having a public body monitor compliance may help embed modern slavery reporting into business culture. It was found that many expert advisers felt that companies view the modern slavery reporting as a “tick-box” exercise, rather than a serious regulatory and governance obligation; “Companies need to feel an equal pressure to report slavery as they do on equality and human rights. There is not yet equal pressure on companies to report their efforts to beat slavery in their supply chains” (Home Office, 2019: 11). In order to tackle this, it has been suggested that annual reports from companies should include their modern slavery reporting (Home Office, 2019: 11).

Prosecutions Under the MSA 2015

The Home Office has faced criticism from the National Audit Office in regard to the collection of data surrounding modern slavery offences (Mantouvalou, 2018: 1025). This is evident when looking at the recorded modern slavery offences between April 2015 and March 2016. During this period, 884 modern slavery crimes were recorded in England and Wales (Haughey, 2016: 12), yet 3,146 referrals were made to the NRM (Mantouvalou, 2018: 1025), a significant contrast. In 2016, 80 prosecutions were made under the MSA (Mantouvalou, 2018: 1026) compared to 27 in 2015 (Haughey, 2016: 13). Overall, while prosecutions of modern slavery crimes have somewhat increased, they are minor in comparison to the number of referrals made to the NRM and the number of modern slavery crimes recorded. Furthermore, while the passing of the MSA increased the maximum custodial sentence to life in prison (Mantouvalou, 2018: 126), successful convictions of modern slavery crimes average at a length of around four years (ibid). Some prosecutors have implemented higher penalties, for example in a case in which the defendant encouraged economically vulnerable victims from Poland to come to the UK under false pretences, withheld the victims’ identification and the majority of their wages, and kept them in extremely poor living conditions (Banks on Sentencing, 2017: 03). In this instance, the perpetrator was imprisoned for seven years (ibid).

The most common motive for perpetrators identified by the current literature is the “low risk, high profit” nature of the crime (Phinney, 2002: 01). Crimes of modern slavery, trafficking and commercial exploitation must be met with full force during prosecution. These crimes must not be taken lightly, and those convicted of organising and/or inciting any such crimes must be convicted accordingly to ensure the crime becomes high risk for any perpetrators.

Following an inspection carried out by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) between November 2016 and March 2017, a critical report was published by the body stating that significant problems (regarding modern slavery investigations) were found in the forces which were investigated.

“Failings across the cases we reviewed included:

- a clear tendency to close cases prematurely, sometimes without speaking to victims or witnesses and when lines of enquiry remained outstanding;

- extensive delays in initiating investigations (of seven and eight months in two of the cases we reviewed);

- lack of effective supervision of investigations;

- lack of focus on safeguarding all potential victims;

- and lack of coordination across police forces, leading to delays in investigations and to difficulties in maintaining contact with victims relocated through the NRM” (HMICFRS, 2017: 12).


The current evidence base on modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK has an array of issues, namely, vast and varying facts, figures and definitions that a variety of charities, agencies, government bodies, and NGOs use. There is a disconnect between the data used by some bodies and actual fact. Research shows that the experiences of those who have lived through trafficking and exploitation does vary greatly, ranging from highly coercive and exploitative situations to cooperative, consensual, and mutually beneficial relationships between migrants and their facilitators with the vast, grey area lying between (Weitzer, 2014: 20). To further understand the issue of modern slavery, and to improve policy responses, interventions and support for victims, much more empirical research must be undertaken.


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