Modern Slavery and Trafficking

The Global Slavery Index estimates that in 2016, around 40.3 million people world wide were living in some form of slavery, with around 136,000 in the UK. While slavery is illegal throughout the world it still exists in the form of forced labour of children and adults; bonded labour (work in order to repay a debt); sexual exploitation; and forced marriage. While drugs can be sold once, human beings can be sold again and again.

In the developed world most people end up in slavery throughhuman trafficking. This is the movement of people by deception, coercion or violence, in order to exploit them. It involves 3 elements:

What is done: recruiting, transporting, harbouring and receiving people

How it is done: using threats or the use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud or deception, abuse of power, payment etc.

Why it is done: in order to exploit people: Including sexual exploitation, forced labour, child exploitation (including forced begging), domestic servitude, other forms of slavery, removal of organs, controlling people so that they will perform criminal acts etc.

(Read the internationally recognized definition of human trafficking here).

The Situation in the UK

Although justice has been devolved to Northern Ireland, arrangements for identifying victims sit within the UK framework. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 consolidated existing legislation, increased maximum sentences, enhanced the support and protection of victims, and encouraged businesses to ensure that their supply chains were free of slavery.

In Northern Ireland The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 aimed to improve capacity to tackle human trafficking, slavery or forced labour.

UK National Trafficking Referral Mechanism (NRM)

The UK ratified the UN Convention Against Human Trafficking in 2008 and this included signing up to a new national referral mechanism. The Home Office, local authorities, the health trusts and the police can refer potential victims to the UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which was introduced in 2009 as a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive help. 10,613 potential victims in the UK were referred to the NRM in 2020. Potential victims were from 108 different countries.

People suspected as being victims of trafficking and slavery are referred to the UK Human Trafficking Centre who should decide within 5 days that there are ‘reasonable grounds’ for assuming that they are victims. Once referred, victims are given 45 days for reflection and recovery when they can decide what they want to do and whether they feel that they can co-operate with the police or not. They are helped with accommodation.

If it is decided that someone has been a victim of human trafficking, they are allowed to stay in the country for at least a year, have access to benefits and are allowed to work. They may get an extension especially if a criminal investigation is taking a long time. Some people want to go home and can be helped to do so.

If someone gets a negative decision, the Home Office may help them to go home if they have no other right to stay. Some people may also apply for asylum in the UK because of fear of persecution if they return home.

If you feel that someone is in immediate danger dial 999. In a non-emergency dial 101 or the Crimestoppers confidential line 0800 555 111.

You can also report suspicious activity through The Home Office Modern Slavery 24-hour helpline 0800 121 700 which is free from most landlines and mobiles. Or you can visit the Modern Slavery Helpline web site 

For more information: