1. Introduction

Modern slavery encompasses slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and domestic servitude. Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment. A large number of active organised crime groups are involved in modern slavery. But it is also committed by individual opportunistic perpetrators.’ (Modern Slavery Strategy, 2014, p.9)

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 (HM Government, 2014).

The Care and Support Statutory Guidance (Department of Health, 2014, p.234) listed 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.

2. Victims

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.

3. Types of Slavery

There are a number of different types of modern slavery. These include:

  • Forced labour / debt bondage: Victims are forced, by criminals, to work in order to pay off debts that realistically they never will be able to. The criminals keep their wages low and increase their debts. Therefore they cannot pay off the loan, but the debt may also be passed to their children.
  • Forced labour: Victims are forced to work against their will. They usually have to work very long hours for little or no pay. Conditions are often very poor, and employers verbally or physically threaten them or actually abuse them and / or their families. Industries where this is more likely to occur include mining, manual building work such as tarmacking, hospitality and food packaging.
  • Sexual exploitation: Victims are forced to perform abusive sexual acts against their will, such as prostitution, escort work and pornography. Although the majority of victims are women and children, men can also be affected. Adults are coerced often under the threat of force, blackmail or other sanctions.
  • Criminal exploitation: Victims are forced into crimes such as cannabis cultivation or pick pocketing. They are often controlled and mistreated, in order to be made to commit such crimes against their will.
  • Domestic servitude: Victims are forced to carry out housework and domestic chores in private households. They receive little or no pay, have their movements severely restricted, have very limited or no free time and little or no privacy, often having to sleeping where they work such as kitchens rather than having their own rooms.

4. Signs of Slavery

The following are indicators that someone may be living and / or working in slavery conditions:

  • Physical appearance and demeanour: Victims may show signs of physical abuse or psychological abuse. They may look malnourished or unkempt and may also be emotionally withdrawn and depressed. They may avoid eye contact, and appear frightened especially if someone tries to speak to them.
  • Isolation: Victims may not usually be allowed to travel by themselves, and are not normally seen alone. They may seem to be under the control or influence of people who are with them, and do not interact with others they may meet. They may be unfamiliar with their local neighbourhood or around where they work, as they are not allowed out for purposes other than work / exploitation.
  • Poor living conditions: Victims may be living in unsanitary, cramped, overcrowded and accommodation. Sometimes the property is not normally used for domestic living arrangements, such as a garage or industrial premises and is therefore unsuitable. They may also live and work at the same address.
  • Few or no personal effects: Victims may often have no identification documents, as they have been confiscated by their ‘employers’ to prevent them being able to leave. They may have few personal possessions, including clothes and therefore have to wear the same attire each day, making them worn and sometimes stained and dirty if laundering them is difficult. Their clothes may not be suitable for the work they do.
  • Restricted freedom of movement: Victims have little opportunity to move freely on their own, and may also have had travel documents such as passports, confiscated.
  • Unusual travel times: Victims may be dropped off / collected for work early in the morning or late at night. As they will not be allowed to travel alone, they will also be escorted to and from work.
  • Reluctant to seek help: Victims may not know who to trust or where to get help. They may be frightened to speak to strangers and be afraid of police and customs officials, through fear of deportation, or violence to them or their family from their employers / captors.

5. Taking Action

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

5.1 Immediate threat of significant harm

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

5.2 No immediate threat of significant harm

There are a number of options that can be taken:

  • 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 professional has information about an individual slavery victim, an alert should also be raised and a referral made to inform the local Safeguarding Adults Team.

5.3 Seeking Advice

Advice should be sought from the organisation’s designated safeguarding adults lead, the local Safeguarding Adults Team, the local Public Protection Unit (contactable via the police switchboard) or the Modern Slavery helpline if the professional wants to discuss their concerns or is unsure about what action they should take.


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