With intensifying stories of human rights abuse is occurring worldwide, is it really surprising that modern slavery is still prevalent in the UK? It shouldn't be.
Modern slavery occurs daily across the UK, we just need to look hard enough. The National Crime Agency has stated that its previous estimates of 10,000-13,000 slaves in the UK is only the “tip of the iceberg” with cases affecting every town and city across the nation. Human rights campaigner Cherie Blair says, “Modern slavery's always been a hidden problem and what's happened since we passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 is more and more light is being thrown onto this problem”.
A 40% rise in the number of identified modern slavery victims was found by a review to mark the first anniversary of the Modern Slavery legislation, with 289 modern slavery offences being prosecuted in 2016.
Who’s at risk?
Victims of trafficking and modern slavery are often from outside the UK, most commonly originating from Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania and Poland, but victims can derive from inside the UK. Slavery victims are usually vulnerable people such as minorities or those from socially excluded groups and can be any gender or age, including children.
How to recognise modern slavery
National Crime Agency’s vulnerabilities director Will Kerr warned that members of the public will be unwittingly coming into contact with victims of trafficking and modern-day slavery every day, making it essential that people are aware of the existence of slavery and are equipped with the knowledge of how to identify it. The Salvation Army identify multiple signs of slavery, including:
- The individual’s travel documents being possessed by another party
- Behaviour that suggests that the individual has been instructed on what to say/how to behave
- The individual receives little or no payment for their labour
- Transport and accommodation is organised and controlled by an employer or third party
- Lack of freedom of movement
Although slavery can occur in any sector, across any part of the supply chain, the most common occurrences of slavery are within construction sites, nail bars, brothels, cannabis farms and the agricultural industry.
A real story
Mr Kerr provided the BBC with an example of a young girl used as a domestic slave.
“He said: "She was being brought in to work for a family in part of the UK, where she had effectively been sold by her father - or it had been facilitated by her father - and she was being brought in to take this family's children to school and pick them up every day, and clean the house in between.”
She was identified as a slave by border control, who found that the 12-year-old Roma girl was expected to serve a family in the UK as a domestic slave. Domestic slavery binds victims to work for a private residence carrying out (often all) domestic tasks including cooking, cleaning, laundry, running errands and caring for family members for little or no money.
What’s being done?
Theresa May has vowed that Britain will lead the fight against the "barbaric evil" that is modern slavery using a new cabinet taskforce and £33m from the aid budget to fund overseas initiatives.
Despite huge advances in identifying victims of modern slavery within the UK, concerns remain around the follow up care received by victims. Labour’s shadow minister for preventing abuse Sarah Champion points out that of the 982 children that were identified as victims of modern slavery and placed into care in 2016, 60% had gone missing within days (a figure found by ECPAT UK). Although inconsistency when dealing with the issue of modern slavery was found by barrister Caroline Hughey, Theresa May has assured that the dedicated taskforce will work with the police and worldwide law enforcement agencies to “coordinate and drive further progress” against modern slavery.
There is still a long way to go in the fight against modern day slavery and human trafficking, but with increasing public awareness and dedicated government action, one day we might get there.