1. Introduction – What is Modern Slavery?

Modern slavery is a serious and often hidden crime where people are exploited by criminals, usually for profit. It includes trafficking, slavery / servitude and forced labour.

In all types of modern slavery a victim is, or is intended to be, used or exploited for someone else’s gain, with no respect for their human rights. Criminals involved in modern slavery can be people who are working alone, those running small businesses or part of a wider organised crime network.

Adult victims are usually coerced or forced into modern slavery by use of threats, force, deception or by someone abusing their position of power over the victim. However, vulnerable adults (and children) cannot give their informed consent to be in such a position and therefore exploitation, even without any type of coercion, could still be modern slavery.

The scale of modern slavery in the UK is significant. Modern slavery crimes are being committed throughout the country and there have been increases in the numbers of victims identified every year. In 2021, the Home Office received 3,190 reports of adult potential victims via the Duty to Refer process (see Section 5, National Referral Mechanism and the Duty to Refer) compared to 2,175 in 2020. The most commonly referred nationalities in 2021 were Albanian (14%), Eritrean (12%) and UK (11%).

Modern slavery can be difficult to spot and often goes unreported. Staff working in social care, health, local authorities and any other role which comes into contact with the public could potentially see signs of modern slavery. Staff should be trained to:

  • understand the signs and indicators of modern slavery;
  • know how to take appropriate action; and
  • provide victims with protection and support, based upon their individual needs. It is essential that professionals recognise that those who were previously victims of survivors of modern slavery (known as survivors) may be at risk of re-trafficking and further harm and take action to prevent this. This is because they may be found by their previous exploiters or coerced by new exploiters.

Multi-agency working is vital to ensure that victims are identified, protected and safeguarded.

Modern slavery is an adult safeguarding concern, and the local authority has legal duties to provide support to suspected or known victims. Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, all modern slavery offences are punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. For modern slavery concerns regarding children please see the Safeguarding Children Procedures.

2. Types of Modern Slavery

Modern slavery includes the following:

  1. human trafficking;
  2. slavery / servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

2.1 Human trafficking

Human trafficking is where a victim is forced or deceived into a situation where they are then exploited. It involves the movement of people for exploitation, and can occur across international borders or within in a country.

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings defines ‘human trafficking’ as:

“the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Human trafficking involves three basic elements;

  1. action;
  2. means; and
  3. purpose of exploitation.

It should be seen as involving a number of actions which are all connected, rather than a single act at a particular point, as shown in the table below:

Elements of human trafficking in adults What this means
Action recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt, which includes an element of movement whether national or cross-border;
Means threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability;
Exploitation for example, sexual exploitation, forced labour or domestic servitude, slavery, financial exploitation, removal of organs (see below for more detail)

(taken from Modern slavery statutory guidance: how to identify and support victims, Home Office)

To be considered as human trafficking, a victim must be trafficked for purposes of exploitation. This can be:

  • sexual exploitation: in most cases of human trafficking for sexual exploitation purposes, victims will be female, but there are also male victims. Rape and violence are common, and victims are often tricked and given false promises of good jobs and economic opportunities.
  • forced or compulsory labour: victims have to work for little or no pay, and their employers will not let them leave or find another job. If they are foreign nationals, their passports may be taken by their exploiters so they cannot return home. They may also be forced to live in terrible conditions. Forced labour can take place in any sector of the labour market, including manufacturing, food preparation and processing, agriculture, nail bars and hand car washes.
  • forced criminality / criminal exploitation: victims are forced to commit illegal activities, including pick pocketing, shoplifting, begging, growing and cultivating cannabis, being exploited across different areas of the country known as ‘county lines’, benefit fraud, sham marriage and other crimes. The Modern Slavery Act states that victims who have been forced into criminality should not be prosecuted.
  • removal of organs: victims are trafficked for their internal organs (typically kidneys or the liver) to be taken (‘harvested’) to be transplanted in other people (who usually pay for the new organs).
  • domestic servitudevictims work in a household where they may be ill-treated, humiliated, made to work long and tiring hours, forced to work and live in very difficult conditions or forced to work for little or no pay. Victims of forced marriage can also be victims of domestic servitude.

2.2 Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour

As well as trafficking, modern slavery also covers cases of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Some people may not be victims of human trafficking (because they are not moved from one area to the other for the purposes of exploitation) but they can still be victims of modern slavery.

Slavery, servitude and forced labour are illegal in the UK.

For a person to be a victim of slavery, servitude or forced labour there must have been?

  • the means (being held, either physically or through threat – for example, threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability);
  • a service (a person has to have provided a service for the benefit of others – for example, begging, sexual services, manual labour, domestic service).

3. Identifying Victims

It can be difficult to identify victims of modern slavery; they are often reluctant to come forward, may not recognise themselves as victims or, because they are scared, they may tell their stories with obvious mistakes or leave some information out.

Some adults are more vulnerable to becoming victims of modern slavery, including:

  • young men and women;
  • pregnant women;
  • former victims of modern slavery (including people who do not consent to the National Referral System (see Section 5) who may be at risk of being re-trafficked;
  • people who are homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless;
  • people with drug and alcohol issues;
  • people who have learning difficulties, disabilities, communication difficulties, chronic developmental or mental health disorders or other health issues;
  • people who have experienced abuse before;
  • people in deprived / poor areas where there are few job opportunities are more likely to be recruited by traffickers, pretending to be recruitment agencies / genuine employers;
  • people struggling with debt;
  • people who have lost family or suffered family breakdown or have limited support networks;
  • people with criminal records who employers may not want to take on;
  • illegal immigrants who are not allowed to work and therefore do not have an income;
  • older people who are lonely and do not have much money;
  • people who speak no or very little English and / or cannot read or write in their own language;
  • overseas domestic workers.

3.1 Signs to look out for

Victims of modern slavery can be found anywhere. However, there are certain industries where they are more likely to be found such as nail bars, hand car washes, food preparation / processing factories, domestic service, farming and fishing, building sites and the sex industry.

The Modern Slavery statutory guidance (Home Office) provides the following indicators:

3.1.1 General Indicators

Victims may:  
Believe that they must work against their will Have false identity or travel documents for example a passport (or none at all)
Be unable to leave their work or home environment Be found in or connected to a type of location or venue likely to be used for exploiting people
Show signs that their movements are being controlled / feel that they cannot leave Be unfamiliar with the local language
Be subjected to violence or threats of violence against themselves or against their family members and loved ones Not know their home or work address
Show fear or anxiety Allow others to speak for them when addressed directly
Have injuries that appear to be the result of an assault Be forced, threatened or deceived into working in poor conditions


Not be allowed to have the money they have earned Be disciplined / controlled through punishment
Be distrustful of the authorities Receive little or no payment
 Be afraid of telling anyone their immigration status Work very long hours over long periods
Come from a place where human trafficking victims are known to come from Live in poor or substandard accommodations
Have had the fees for their transport to the country of destination paid for by organisers of human trafficking, who they must pay back by working or providing services Have no access to medical care
Have no or not much contact with other people Only be allowed to have limited contact with their families or with people outside of their immediate environment
Be unable to speak freely with others Believe that they must work until they have paid off the debt they are told they owe
Be dependent on their ‘bosses’ / facilitators Have believe the false promises of their bosses / facilitators.

3.1.2 Physical indicators

  • Physical injuries – with no clear explanation as to how or when they got the injuries or which are either not treated or only partly treated, or there may be lots of / unusual scars or broken bones which have healed.
  • Work related injuries – often through having poor or no personal protective equipment and health and safety arrangements.
  • Physical consequences of living in captivity, neglect or poor environmental conditions – for example, infections including tuberculosis (TB), chest infections or skin infections, malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies or anaemia.
  • Dental problems – from physical abuse and / or not being able to see a dentist.
  • Worsening of existing long term medical conditions – these may be untreated (or poorly treated) conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Being disfigured – cutting, burning, or branding someone’s skin may be used as punishment or a way to show that an exploiter ‘owns’ the person.
  • Pain after a surgical operation – infection or scarring from organ harvesting, particularly of a kidney.

3.1.3 Psychological indicators

  • Expression – they may seem in fear or anxious.
  • Depression – they may have a lack of interest in getting involved in activities, in socialising with other people or appear to feel hopelessness.
  • Attachment and identity issues – they can become detached from other people or become over-dependent (or both). This can include being dependent on their exploiters.
  • Unable to control emotions – for example they may often swing between sadness, forgiveness, anger, aggression, frustration and / or emotional detachment or emotional withdrawal.
  • Difficulties with relationships – they may have difficulty trusting others (either have a lack of trust or be too trusting) which causes difficulties in their relationships and difficulties assessing warning signs in their relationships.
  • Loss of independence – for example they may have difficulty in making simple decisions, tendency to give in to the views / desires of others.

 3.1.4 Situational and environmental indicators

  • Exploiters keep victims’ passports or identity documents, contracts, any payslips, bank information or health records.
  • They have a lack of information about their rights as a visitor in the UK or a lack of knowledge about the area in which they live in the UK.
  • They act as if they are being coerced or controlled by another person.
  • They may go missing for periods.
  • They may be fearful and emotional about their family or dependents.
  • They may have limited spoken English, for example only being able to talk about being exploited and not being able to have any other topic of conversation.
  • They may be limited in where they can go (victims may not be ‘locked up’ but are not able to move around freely) or being held in isolation.
  • They may have their wages withheld (including deductions from wages).
  • Debt bondage – they may have to work until they have paid off a debt to the traffickers / exploiters.
  • They may have abusive working and / or living conditions, including having to work a lot of overtime.

3.2 Impact on Victims

Victims of modern slavery are forced, threatened or deceived into situations of humiliation and being under the control of their exploiters, which undermines their personal identity and sense of self. The impact of these experiences can be devastating.

It is important for all professionals to understand the specific vulnerability of victims of modern slavery and use practical, trauma-informed methods of working which are based upon basic principles of dignity, compassion and respect and which recognise the impact of trauma on the emotional, psychological and social wellbeing of people.

Victim’s voices must always be heard, and their rights respected.

4. Reporting Concerns

4.1 Taking action

Any worker who has concerns about someone who they think may be a victim of modern slavery should follow their organisation’s safeguarding adults procedures. When responding to concerns of modern slavery, the safety, protection and support of the potential victim must be the first priority. They may need emergency medical care. Only independent interpreters should be used. Never any other adults who are with the potential victims as they may (unknown to the member of staff) be associated with the exploiters and therefore may not tell the truth about the person’s situation.

4.1.1 Immediate risk of harm

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

4.1.2 No immediate risk of harm

There are a number of options that can be taken:

  • the police can be contacted on 101;
  • the Modern Slavery helpline can be contacted: 0800 0121 700.

4.1.3 Adult Social Care

Victims of modern slavery are often adults who are at risk of, or who are experiencing, abuse or neglect, particularly when they have been rescued from a situation of exploitation. In this instance, local authority adult social care should be informed as soon as possible to identify whether a Section 42 (safeguarding) enquiry is required. A safeguarding referral to the local authority should be made with the cooperation adult victim, taking into account their needs and wishes.

Even where an adult has been removed from a harmful situation, they can be at risk of re-victimisation. Even if there is no immediate risk relating to safety or the person’s welfare, it is important to discuss any concerns with your designated safeguarding adults lead or the local authority safeguarding adults team and follow local safeguarding adults policies and procedures.

4.2 Seeking advice

You can seek advice on what action to take from your designated safeguarding adults lead, the local authority safeguarding adults team, the police public protection unit (contactable via the Northumbria Police switchboard) or the Modern Slavery Helpline.

5. National Referral Mechanism and the Duty to Refer

For further guidance and the online referral forms see:

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) provides a framework for identifying and referring potential modern slavery victims and ensuring they receive appropriate support.

Support for adult victims may include:

  • access to legal aid for immigration advice;
  • access to short-term Government-funded support through the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (accommodation, material assistance, translation and interpretation services, counselling, advice, etc.);
  • outreach support if already in local authority accommodation or asylum accommodation;
  • assistance to return to their home country if not a UK national.

5.1 Referral or Duty to Notify

An online referral system is used for making referrals into the NRM and also for Duty to Notify (DtN) referrals.

Referrals into the NRM can only be made by staff who work for designated ‘first responder’ organisations (see Appendix 1 below).

Whether a DtN referral or referral into the NRM is made depends on obtaining the consent of the adult victim.

For an adult to be referred to the NRM, they must provide informed consent. This means they should understand what the NRM is, what support it can provide, and what the possible outcomes are if they are referred.

It should be presumed that an individual has the mental capacity to make a decision about whether to consent to entering the NRM.

When there may be concern about a person’s mental capacity to make a decision about whether or not to consent to entering the NRM, steps should be taken to try to support them to make the decision. Where a person does not have the capacity to consent, a best interests decision should be taken. Before a decision is taken in the best interests of an individual, it is vital to consult with any other agencies involved in the care and support of the individual. See Mental Capacity chapter.

If the adult does not consent to a NRM referral, a DtN referral should always still be made, using the online form.

5.2 Support for potential victims who do not consent

Adult potential victims who choose not to enter the NRM may still be eligible for other state support. They may still be:

  • at immediate risk of harm, in which case the police should be contacted by calling 999;
  • eligible for housing support through the local authority or for other support from the government where they have recourse to public funds;
  • entitled to make a claim for asylum or another type of immigration status or stay in asylum support if they have an active claim (where the person does not have the right to reside in the UK);
  • able to receive emergency medical care;
  • at risk of further exploitation, see Section 4.1.3, Adult Social Care.

Appendix 1 – NRM First Responder Organisations and Responsibilities

In England and Wales, a ‘first responder organisation’ is an authority that is authorised to refer a potential victim of modern slavery into the National Referral Mechanism. The current statutory and non-statutory first responder organisations are:

  • police forces;
  • certain parts of the Home Office; UK Visas and Immigration, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and National Crime Agency;
  • local authorities;
  • Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA);
  • Salvation Army;
  • Migrant Help;
  • Medaille Trust;
  • Kalayaan;
  • Barnardo’s;
  • Unseen;
  • BAWSO;
  • New Pathways;
  • Refugee Council.

First responder organisations have the following responsibilities – it is for the organisation to decide how it will discharge these responsibilities:

  • identify potential victims of modern slavery and recognise the indicators of modern slavery;
  • gather information in order to understand what has happened to victims;
  • refer victims into the NRM via the online process (in England and Wales this includes notifying the Home Office if an adult victim doesn’t consent to being referred – DtN);
  • provide a point of contact for the competent authority to assist with the Reasonable and Conclusive Grounds decisions and to request a reconsideration where a first responder believes it is appropriate to do so.
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