What Is Modern Slavery?
Modern slavery refers to the severe exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. Many crimes and forms of abuse fall under this umbrella definition, including human trafficking, forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, debt-bondage and organ harvesting.
The nation was shocked by the recent revelation that a Carlisle father and son had abused and exploited a vulnerable man for over four decades. The individual was found living in a squalid, rotting shed with no working lighting, heating or bathroom facilities – while the family dog lived in comparable luxury in the shed next door. He was compensated as little as £10 a day for carrying out often dangerous work for the family. His captors encouraged him to drink as a means of control. The details are harrowing, but this is not an isolated incident. Modern slavery is a humanitarian crisis happening on our doorstep.
Victims may be of any gender, age, nationality and ethnicity. They may be unable to refuse or leave the situation due to threats, violence, coercion and deception. They may not see themselves as a victim of modern slavery. Perpetrators range from organised crime groups to close relatives of the victim.
How Many People Are Affected?
Though it is a covert crime, we are closer to modern slavery than we realise. It exists in agriculture, the garment industry, and construction. The clothes we wear and the food we eat may have links to modern slavery. Many victims have been found in beauty parlours, car washes, cannabis farms and the sex industry. Someone living a life of domestic servitude could be on your street.
Though it is not possible to provide exact figures, it is understood that thousands of people are victims of contemporary slavery in the UK. One study gives a higher-end estimate of at least 100,000 victims of modern slavery at any given time. We also understand that this exploitation is on the increase and that the pandemic may have exacerbated the issue in the UK and around the world.
Tackling Modern Slavery
Increased awareness of the problem is essential for tackling contemporary slavery. Common indicators that someone could be a victim include:
- Signs of physical/psychological abuse: malnourished, injured, appearing to be withdrawn or neglected.
- Living conditions: Overcrowded, dirty accommodation. Curtains may be consistently closed or they may appear to work and reside at the same address.
- Clothing: Wearing the same clothes for days on end or using inappropriate clothing and equipment for the job.
- Behaviour: Anxious, afraid, unable to make eye contact. Appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work.
- Travel arrangements: Getting dropped off and picked up at regimented times each day. Children travelling in private cars or taxis at unusual times and locations.
- Freedom of movement: Seem unable to travel alone. Limited access to money or personal documents such as passports or ID cards. Control: Act as though they are under someone else’s instruction or control. Working long hours or having inappropriate relationships.
These are general indicators of exploitation. The anti-slavery charity, Unseen UK, detail the specific signs that someone may be a victim of forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, child and criminal exploitation.
The Modern Slavery Act came into effect in 2015, considered a world-leading piece of legislation. It consolidated existing human trafficking and slavery offences and enshrined greater provisions into law. Inspired by a California reporting requirement introduced in 2012, the Act also attempted to tackle the role of complex supply chains in masking contemporary slavery. Businesses with an annual turnover of over £36 million must report the steps they have taken to ensure that slavery or human trafficking is not taking place in their organisation and supply chains (or declare that no steps have been taken).
A husband and wife have been jailed for five years each after trafficking women in Yorkshire and Norfolk into sexual slavery. The pair exploited seven women and were sentenced for controlling prostitution for gain and several human trafficking-related offences under the Modern Slavery Act. In addition, the couple were given Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders that will last for ten years after their release. The orders will place limits on their post-imprisonment activity to prevent reoffending.
Anti-Slavery International is campaigning for greater provisions for survivors and steps to be taken towards preventing exploitation. UK victims currently receive short-term support, typically up to 45 days, and longer-term support is provided on a case-by-case basis. Campaigners advocate for more extensive medical and psychological care for survivors, and for non-UK nationals to be given the right to work in order to rebuild their lives.
Sadly, the hostile environment fostered around immigration means that those who are trafficked from abroad may be treated as immigration offenders. This may deter victims from coming forward through fear of prosecution. It could also hinder their financial, psychological and physical recovery, which is already an extremely painful process.
The Modern Slavery Helpline (08000 121 700) is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is available in over 200 languages, for victims or concerned members of the public to report exploitation.