Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery

Slavery is not an issue confined to history or an issue that only exists in certain countries – it is something that is still happening today. It is a global problem and the UK is no exception.

It is a growing issue, affecting men, women and children. It is a problem that transcends age, gender and ethnicity, and can impact both foreign nationals and British citizens.


What is Modern Slavery?

There are many different characteristics that distinguish slavery from other human rights violations, however only one needs to be present for slavery to exist. 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 has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.

Contemporary slavery takes various forms and affects people of all ages, gender and races.

Spot the signs of Modern Slavery

Modern slavery takes many forms, but some of the most common are sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude. Victims are forced to work illegally, against their will in many different sectors, including brothels, cannabis farms, nail bars, agriculture and even within people’s homes.

Things to look for: 

  • A lack of self-esteem
  • Acting as if instructed by another
  • Injured or in need of medical care
  • Distrustful
  • Fearful and poorly integrated into the local community
  • Living in overcrowded accommodation
  • Lacking suitable clothing for their job
  • Picked up by vehicles at unusual hour

Spot the signs

Significant Signs

These signs could alert you to a potential situation across all types of exploitation.

  • Is the person lacking self-esteem or do they seem anxious with an expression of fear; can you see any signs of psychological trauma?
  • Does the person act as if instructed by another? There may be control over their movement.
  • Is the person in possession of their legal documents? They may be held by somebody else.
  • Does the person seem bonded by debt or is money deducted from their salary?
  • Is the person in need of medical care? Access to this care may have been prevented
  • Have there been threats against the individual or their family members?
  • Is the person distrustful of authorities?
  • Is there any evidence to suggest deception or coercion may be taking place?
  • Do they have any injuries that may be the result of controlling measures?
Sexual Exploitation

When someone is controlled for non-consensual sex.

  • Is the person moved between locations where sex is being sold?
  • Have people been forced, intimidated or coerced into providing services of a sexual nature?
  • Are the women selling sex wearing very limited amounts of clothing or is it of a ‘sexual’ nature?
  • Does the person selling sex only have an English vocabulary of sexualised words?
  • Are there any signs that the person selling sex is experiencing general or sexual health issues?
  • Are there any signs of ritual abuse having taken place?
  • Has the person been subjected to other crimes such as abduction, assault or rape?
  • Do sex workers sleep on the premises? Brothels are not normally used as accommodation.
  • Is there a question over age of the people at the premises who are selling sex?
  • Is the person selling sex closely guarded?
  • Is there advertising for sexual services of people from particular ethnic or national groups?
Domestic Servitude

Domestic Servitude is where people are living with a family working as a domestic servant or nanny.

  • Does the person ever or rarely leave the house without their employer present?
  • Does the person appear to have makeshift or inappropriate sleeping arrangements? This might be on a sofa, under the stairs or in the children’s room.
  • Does the person eat alone and are they given the family’s leftovers? Poor diet is not uncommon.
  • Are the communications the person is allowed to have restricted by the employer?
  • Is the person forced to work in excess of normal working hours i.e. on call 24hrs a day?
Forced Labour

If you can think of an industry that has the potential to make money, there is an opportunity for labour exploitation to take place.

  • Are workers lacking suitable work clothing such as waterproofs, hair nets or steel toe caps?
  • Do workers live in overcrowded private rented accommodation? They may also not know the address of where they live.
  • Do minibuses pick workers up at unusual hours?
  • Do workers seem fearful and poorly integrated into the wider community?
  • Are children working? There may be modified facilities to help them undertake their work.
  • Do workers get any days off or holiday time?
  • Do workers receive an excess wage reduction, where they earn below minimum wage?
  • Is the employer or manager unable to provide records for wages paid to workers?
Spot the signs in the community
  • Can faces been seen at house windows often looking stressed and never smiling?
  • Are property curtains closed for much of the day?
  • Is there a significant build up of home delivery meal packaging outside the property?
  • Does a commercial premises survive despite a clear lack of regular business?
  • Are there low price deals offered at the door involving cheap labour and invariably for cash?
Child Trafficking

Child Trafficking is child abuse. Children are trafficked into every scenario of trafficking.

  • Does the child have expensive possessions or money without plausible explanation?
  • Does the child have a significantly older boyfriend?
  • Is the child cared for or accompanied by an adult who is not their legal guardian?
  • Is the child among a number of unrelated children found at one address?
  • Has the child’s journey or visa been arranged by someone other than them or a family member?
  • Is the child isolated with a lack of positive, meaningful relationships in their life?
  • Does the child show any indications of psychological trauma or numbing?
  • Are there any signs of physical neglect? This may be basic care, malnourishment or work-related?
  • Is the child collected from school by different people each day, who are not their parents or grandparents?
  • Does the child rarely leave the house unaccompanied and speak little or no English?
Cannabis Cultivation

Cannabis cultivation often involves children or teenagers forced to work in ‘Cannabis Factories’ set up in residential premises.

  • Are there metal grills over the windows outside or are they permanently covered on the inside?
  • Are there visits to the property late at night or early in the morning and are they irregular?
  • Is there a vent protruding through the roof or a rear window that doesn’t seem normal?
  • Is there a pungent smell coming from the property?
  • Can you hear any noise which is out of the ordinary for the type of property?
  • Are there compost bags, black sacks, laundry bags or gardening equipment left outside in the rear of the premises that seems out of the ordinary?
  • Has electricity been tacked on from neighbouring properties or directly from the powerlines?
Street Crime

Begging in public places or on public transport can be a sign of modern slavery.

  • Are a large group of adult or child beggars moved daily to different locations but return to the same location every night?
  • On public transport do they move as a group?
  • Is a large group of children guarded by an adult?

Suspect that modern slavery is happening near you?

You can report it in a number of ways.

In an emergency call 999

For non-emergencies, call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Call the Modern Slavery Helpline

You can call the Modern Slavery Helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 0121 700.

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