Modern Slavery – an introduction

What is Modern Slavery?

Modern Slavery is the exploitation of people who have been forced, deceived, or coerced into a life of labour and servitude. It is a crime hidden from society where victims are subjected to abuse, inhumane and degrading treatment. Examples of enslavement include:

  •  a person who is forced to work or serve – through fear and threats of violence
  • is owned or controlled by an ’employer’ who uses mental or physical abuse to exercise control
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’
  • being kept in substandard working/living conditions
  • physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement

Modern Slavery is linked to Human Trafficking, but not all victims of modern slavery have necessarily been trafficked.

Who is at risk?

Recruiters often identify the most vulnerable in society – those with mental health, alcohol and drug related issues; the homeless, children and people with disabilities. The Home Office estimate that there are 10,000 to 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK, 3000 believed to be children. The trafficking and modern slavery network often involves the following structure:

  • Recruiters
  • Transporters/Traffickers
  • Exploiters

How do they recruit?

Recruitment methods vary and can include:

  • abduction
  • befriending (can be romantically)
  • recruitment agencies (both unknowing legitimate agencies and agencies that use recruitment as a cover)
  • approach by a stranger (promise of a better life)
  • family – potentially being ‘sold’
  • internet
  • adverts – newspapers and shop windows

Many are provided with free drugs and alcohol (a cheaper option than drugs) as an initial inducement. Once recruitment has taken place and the victim is under a degree of control, they are ‘marketed’ and transported to a place of work. Perpetrators use varying methods to exercise control over their victims. Many are refused access to what basic human rights – food, clothing and warmth. Victims can be kept in isolation, movement restricted and contact with family and the outside world prevented.

Passports, other identity documents, money, access to monies and pay can be withheld. These methods of control are underpinned with the use of violence, threats of violence against their family, and psychological intimidation e.g. being told that if they don’t comply, they will be exposed to the authorities as illegal immigrants. Victims who are trafficked into the UK are often brainwashed into believing that, if they fall into the hands of the authorities, they will be treated badly, imprisoned and deported. This creates a deep distrust of police, social care and other agencies.

Victims are seen by their abusers as commodities, to be bought, sold and exploited. Abusers range from individuals to complex organisations. Perpetrators often favour locations where the victim won’t be noticed, but also where they may not necessarily be able to communicate with others due to a lack of English or other local languages; a lack of local knowledge and an awareness of who and how to seek help.

Victims can also be ‘rotated’ and ‘sold’ between abusers, particularly where sexual exploitation is the primary factor. They can often be found in multiple occupancy accommodation with other unconnected victims. This accommodation may have been provided as a condition of their ‘employment’ with the exploiter charging high premiums, meaning the victim has little or no chance of paying off. This leads to the victim becoming bonded by debt. Living conditions are often basic, overcrowded and pose a health risk to the inhabitants.

Where victims are identified, it can be years after the abuse started. Many do not recognise or accept that they are being exploited. Some victims may have a mindset that the life they left behind is worse than the servitude they are experiencing, whilst some may be ‘putting up’ with the exploitation for the benefit of the family they left behind. Others may be sending what little money they receive back home to their families. Some are just simply to frightened of their abusers to acknowledge the exploitation. Any form of ‘consent’ given by a victim in circumstances mentioned above is irrelevant – no person can have control over another person by these means.

Practitioners may experience victims who are unwilling to disclose the abuse. They may be frightened for their safety or the wellbeing of their family back home. Many will have a fear and distrust of authorities and may have been indoctrinated to believe this by the exploiter. Disclosure may take many months, with voluntary non-government organisations potentially being the best way to enhance the persons care and obtain vital information about the traffickers.

What types of slavery are there?

The types of slavery are:

  • Forced Labour
  • Domestic Servitude
  • Bonded Labour
  • Forced Criminality
  • Forced and Early Marriage
  • Child Slavery
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Organ and egg harvesting
  • Drug Supply
  • Cyber Slavery
  • Descent Based Slavery
  • Slavery in Supply Chains

Let’s look in detail at the types:


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