Modern Slavery

Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner: About modern slavery: The UK is both a country of destination, with thousands of victims arriving from other countries only to be exploited by criminals; and a source country with increasing numbers of British victims identified. Slavery takes many different forms and affects adults and children, males and females.

Those who are enslaved are exploited for the financial gain of their captors. The vulnerable are made to work in cruel conditions for long hours without pay. Examples include women and girls forced into prostitution for profit, young boys made to commit criminal acts against their will and men kept in slave-like conditions in factories.

Last year 10,627 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the National Referral Mechanism; a 52% increase from 2018. The most common type of exploitation for both adults and minors was labour exploitation. Potential victims from the UK, Albania and Vietnam were the three most common nationalities to be referred in the NRM.

Human traffickers in the UK will coerce and control their victims, keeping them in slavery for weeks, months or years at a time. Individuals are often deceived into working in slave-like conditions, and then threatened in order to keep them there. Victims are moved from abuser to abuser and they are usually too afraid of their captors to risk escape, making slavery a hidden, complex crime.

For those victims who do escape or are rescued the UK has an established system of support, namely, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). This was introduced in 2009. The NRM provides accommodation and other vital services for victims for a minimum of 45 days. The NRM exists outside statute, and many organisations also support victims of modern slavery before, during and after exiting the NRM.

Although modern slavery can involve the movement of people across an international border, it is also possible to be a victim within one’s own country.

18 March 2021: Modern Slavery & Human Rights Policy & Evidence Centre: How Covid-19 limited UK’s ability to identify people who experienced modern slavery

Prof Alex Balch analyses the figures of people referred as potential victims of modern slavery in the UK for 2020:

[…] Our research points to a number of lessons that can be drawn from the NRM data, and from the challenges and experiences of First Responders throughout the pandemic. First, we need to explore new opportunities to overcome the challenge of decreased mobility in order to continue engagement with people who may be subject to exploitation – this may be at supermarkets and food banks and, currently, at vaccination centres.

Second, there could be connections made with other related areas where there have been innovative actions taken, for example the code ‘Ask for ANI’ (Action Needed immediately), which was launched to tackle domestic abuse.

Third, it would be very useful for the NRM to provide more granular data and analysis of the situation in different parts of the country. If the UK Government is committed to tackling modern slavery, the experiences of frontline staff and the data on referrals from the NRM need to be used in an intelligent way. Only then we can ensure that the response is dynamic and appropriate to local context, with an ability to react to new constantly evolving challenges that have been highlighted by the experiences during the pandemic.

4 March 2021: ICIBI: An inspection of the work of Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, and UK Visas and Immigration to identify, investigate, disrupt and prosecute perpetrators of modern slavery and human trafficking October 2019 – April 2020

3.1 According to Home Office data,3 in the two years between April 2018 and March 2020, 10 individuals were arrested for modern slavery offences following an investigation by Immigration Enforcement’s Criminal and Financial Investigations (CFI) directorate. Five of these were subject to no further action by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), three were charged with conspiracy to facilitate and two with the substantive offence of facilitation.

7.91 Some individuals were detained in IRCs despite the circumstances of the ICE encounter suggesting that they were likely to be MSHT victims. Responding to ICIBI’s ‘call for evidence’ for the Adults at Risk inspection, a number of stakeholders expressed concern about this: “some of the women we have spoken to have been arrested during immigration raids on brothels or massage parlours … so there is evidence from the circumstances of their arrest that they may be victims of trafficking. In spite of this, though, they haven’t been referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), and they have been detained.”

7.136 The guidance, which contains hyperlinks to other relevant guidance, explains that modern slavery includes “human trafficking [and] slavery, servitude and forced labour”, and cautions that victims may not feel able to identify themselves as such and “it may only be by directly asking that the claimant will indicate they are a victim of modern slavery”. It notes: “The difference between people who are smuggled and those who are trafficked will often be blurred. The ‘end’ situation for the individual can determine whether someone has been smuggled or trafficked. Asylum claimants may be encountered before the ‘end’ situation, so the exploitation may not have yet occurred. However, as it is in the mind of the exploiter, the person could still be a victim of trafficking. If in doubt you should proceed on the basis that the person may be a victim of trafficking. The screening form has some initial softer 127 ‘Asylum screening and routing’ explains that these can be found “in the guidance for frontline staff”. 65 questions that may indicate whether the claimant is a victim of trafficking and there is a direct question in part 5 (sic) – question 2.5.” 7.137 The NRM form asks a number of ‘tick box’ questions about the nature of the victimisation, including indicators of modern slavery, forced or compulsory labour, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation that focus on the actions or behaviours of perpetrators. It also asks for a narrative of the encounter with the victim and the information they provided, including the “name of agent, exploiter or trafficker (if known)”, to support the reasons for the referral. 7.138 However, screening interviewers told inspectors that since the ‘Method of Entry’ form was replaced with a more streamlined question set, they had lost the opportunity to gather further information from an asylum applicant that may have identified MSHT offences and perpetrators. Some staff said they did not feel that they were encouraged or supported by their managers to find out more information: “Before we would ask a few questions. Now, they say, ‘Just ask the questions on the form, leave the rest for the caseworker’”. One commented “It’s a shame because this is the first stop. They reveal quite a lot to us [but] we’ve been told not to ask other questions”.

7.142 However, ‘Victims of modern slavery – frontline staff guidance’ details the reasons why “claimants may be reluctant to go into much detail about the full facts of their case” and informing the interviewer that “they may need to establish” the circumstances in which the claimant came into contact with the trafficker and whether “they fear the trafficker and/or associates if returned to their country of origin”. The questions, including whether they can seek protection from the authorities in their country of origin or relocate internally, are clearly intended to address the basis of claim. However, the answers may identify and enable the investigation and prosecution of traffickers in the UK or overseas. 7.143 Inspectors spoke to asylum caseworkers. They said that there was little opportunity for them to detect perpetrators. Staff did not see intelligence gathering as part of their role. intelligence submissions but did not have a good understanding of what information was required: “We know that we should send intelligence, but little more”.

4 March 2021: The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner: Dame Sara comments on ICIBI modern slavery report and Government response

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, said:

“The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) report laid in Parliament today outlines the critical role that Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and UK Visas and Immigration play in disrupting the activities of perpetrators of modern slavery and human trafficking. The report finds that the Home Office is not doing enough to identify, investigate, disrupt and prosecute the perpetrators of modern slavery, and opportunities to do so are being missed.

“The report follows discussions I had with Chief Inspector David Bolt on where this latest inspection could add the most value. The ICIBI conducted an inspection on the identification and treatment of potential victims of modern slavery by Border Force in 2017 and a re-inspection on progress made since that report in 2018. Both reports were carried out in cooperation with my Office.

“This latest report is focused on operational activity to identify, investigate, disrupt and prosecute perpetrators of modern slavery and human trafficking. The report finds that while operational activity has increased, the work of the Home Office and its three Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System (BICS) operational directorates is still siloed and disjointed, with little evidence of a plan to address this. The Chief Inspector sets out his recommendations for a clearer set of roles and responsibilities for BICS. He also advocates a much greater responsibility for the Home Office lead on serious and organised crime to provide leadership and coordination to the operational BICS units.

“The need for leadership and coordination is absolutely essential notwithstanding the challenges posed by upcoming Home Office reorganisation and the long wait for the review into serious and organised crime commissioned in November 2019.

“I will be scrutinising the Home Office response to these recommendations and look forward to seeing tangible action at both a strategic and operational level to disrupt and prevent these crimes from taking place at our borders.”

4 March 2021: Dame Sarah Thornton  @UKAntiSlavery Commissioner, urges police investment in training for specialist teams, more financial investigations & closer cross-border working to tackle huge, hidden & complex crime of #ModernSlavery & #HumanTrafficking

See @PolicingInsight (subscription required)

15 February: Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner: Launch: Identifying and mitigating risks in the EU Settlement Scheme and the UK’s new points-based immigration system

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has today published a briefing paper outlining potential risks of exploitation related to the EU Settlement Scheme and the UK’s new points-based immigration system.

In February 2020 the Home Secretary committed to protecting individuals from criminal exploitation and unscrupulous employers when she announced the new points-based immigration system.

Traffickers are swift to adapt and will seek to abuse new arrangements. It is essential that the potential risks of the EU Settlement Scheme and the points-based system are identified and mitigated. Officials need to listen to concerns about unintended consequences, monitor impact and take mitigating action.

The paper sets out how the EU Settlement Scheme and points-based immigration system have the potential to increase vulnerability to modern slavery:

Concerns associated with the EU Settlement Scheme

  • Victims and survivors of modern slavery may not have full evidence and documentation required to apply for settled status
  • Lack of clarity around late applications to the EUSS and communication on the need to convert pre-settled status to settled status
  • Criminal convictions and the Modern Slavery Act 2015’s Section 45 statutory defence
  • Lack of physical documentation proving EUSS status

Concerns associated with the points-based immigration system

  • Risks around the visitor route and continued demand for low skilled labour
  • Risks around the skilled worker route including recruitment fees, artificially inflated salaries and clawback of money by employers
  • Quality and compliance of sponsors, effective labour market enforcement and communication of migrant workers’ rights

4 January 2021: IASC commentary: Supporting survivors to regain independence

 Comments by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, feature in an article published today by Thomson Reuters Foundation on priorities for the anti-slavery movement in 2021. (see extract below)

Expanding on her comments in the article on the moral and practical arguments for granting leave to survivors, the Commissioner further adds:

“I continue to be concerned to hear the anguish and trauma caused to survivors of modern slavery who even after they have had a positive trafficking decision from the Home Office are waiting for decisions about whether they will be able to remain in the UK. I have been working with officials to try to understand why decisions take so long but this approach is slow and meanwhile survivors are suffering.

“The latest guidance says that discretionary leave is automatically considered for all non-EEA survivors. But the overall number of survivors granted discretionary leave remains very low. In 2015, 123 survivors with positive conclusive grounds were granted discretionary leave, in 2019 it was 70 and in the first three months of this year it was only 8. From 1 January some EEA nationals will be similarly unsure about their future.

“There is a powerful moral argument for granting leave for those whom the state has concluded are victims of trafficking or slavery but there is also a practical one. Without such leave survivors, who are not claiming asylum or who have not been granted EU settled status, are not entitled to accommodation and have limited access to benefits – they will either be unable to leave safe houses or left destitute on the streets. Surely 2021 is the year to resolve this?”

Thomson Reuters Foundation: Laws to leaders: three aims for the anti-slavery movement in 2021

Coronavirus pandemic could undo gains in tackling human trafficking worldwide, experts warn

[…] About 40 million people globally are estimated to be enslaved – in forced labour and forced marriages – in a trade worth an estimated $150 billion a year to human traffickers, according to the U.N. International Labour Organization (ILO). […]


With attention and resources diverted elsewhere during COVID-19, trafficking is now even more underground and less visible, the U.N. special rapporteur on trafficking has warned.

Many victims are unable or afraid to speak out or seek help – with migrant workers particularly vulnerable – and face working longer for less pay or falling further into debt bondage due to the economic slowdown, according to several experts.

Governments need to urgently revive their anti-trafficking responses to head off a “ballooning crisis”, said Valiant Richey, trafficking lead at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a security and rights watchdog.

“This means reactivating the criminal justice and victim assistance systems, including by adequately funding NGOs, as soon as possible,” he said.

Unconnected to coronavirus, campaigners have voiced concern in major nations from Britain to the United States about the low number of victims granted asylum or leave to remain.

Britain’s independent anti-slavery commissioner, Sara Thornton, said there was a moral argument and also a practical one for granting leave to survivors, as many otherwise faced being stuck in safehouses or left destitute on the street.

“Surely 2021 is the year to resolve this?” she said

April 2020: ICIBI: Annual Inspection of Adults at Risk in Immigration Detention 2018-89

5.79 Most respondents believed that effective screening of individuals to identify vulnerability was lacking. Although this applied to anyone who might be detained, the impact on particular groups was highlighted, for example potential victims of modern slavery (PVoMs):
“some of the women we have spoken to have been arrested during immigration raids on
brothels or massage parlours … so there is evidence from the circumstances of their arrest
that they may be victims of trafficking. In spite of this, though, they haven’t been referred
into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), and they have been detained.”