What do you think of when we say ‘slavery’?
Chances are an image comes to mind of historical slavery, before its abolition in the UK 183 years ago.
But slavery is still all around us – from the goods we buy being produced by low- or no-wage workers, to the house down your road that’s secretly a brothel housing trafficked women and girls, or even your cleaner or au pair.
Today, October 18, is Anti-Slavery Day – a day first created in 2010 for charities, individuals, local authorities and police forces to raise awareness of modern slavery and take action.
So what do you need to know?
What is ‘modern slavery’ and human trafficking?
Although human trafficking is different in every circumstance, at their centre all forms of slavery have this in common: The control and exploitation of a vulnerable victim for the profit and gain of the traffickers.
The UN Palermo Protocol’s definition of human trafficking can be broken down into three essential parts:
- The acquisition of a person
- By means of deception or coercion
- For the purposes of exploitation
This includes sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, forced criminal activity, sham marriages, and even organ removal.
How common is modern slavery?
A lot more common than you think.
Slavery is currently the fastest-growing international crime, and the second largest source of illegal income worldwide.
Although it’s difficult to know exactly how common it is, estimates suggest that around 45.8 million people are being held in mdoern slavery around the world today.
And in 2014 the International Labour Office calculated that the total profit obtained from the use of forced labour was £122.73 billion a year.
But we don’t have slavery in the UK… do we?
Unfortunately, slavery is just as much of a problem here as anywhere else.
The most common forms of slavery in the UK are forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced criminal activity.
But because slavery is such a global business, it’s difficult to ever have a truly accurate picture of trafficking in the UK, or in any other single country.
Last year some 3,266 potential victims from 102 countries of origin were referred to the UK’s National Referral Mechanism – the Government’s mechanism for identifying, assessing and supporting potential victims of trafficking.
In 2013 in the UK, there was a reported 47% increase in slavery cases from 2012.
However, in reality the extent of the crime is likely to be far, far greater than this.
In its Modern Slavery Strategy the Home Office has estimated that there may be as many as 13,000 people held in slavery in the UK.
What are the different types of slavery?
Modern slavery takes many different forms. The most common are:
Forced labour is the most common form of slavery – around 20 million people worldwide are affected.
Kevin Bales, co-founder and former president of Free The Slaves, says that forced labour may be most common in India – with the majority of victims being Dalits or ‘untouchables’.
In fact, he says they ‘may have more slaves than all the other countries of the world put together’.
Dalits make up about a quarter of the Indian population, with around 250 million people. Research also suggests that Dalits are the largest number of people categorised as victims of modern-day slavery.
Children are trafficked for all kinds of reasons – such as forced labour, forced marriage and sexual exploitation.
They do however also fall victim to illegal adoption, chocolate and cannabis cultivation, and are forced to partake in illegal activity such as pickpocketing, shoplifting and benefit fraud.
When trafficked children are abandoned, they are usually left without money, ID or anywhere to go.
Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, because they work alone in an under-regulated sector and rely on their employer for work, accommodation and immigration status.
It’s all too easy for a domestic worker to be taken advantage of and find themselves trapped in an invisible form of slavery.
In the UK, cases of domestic servitude include both adults and children. They are normally migrants.
When trapped in domestic slavery, children are denied their right to go to school.
When someone is trafficked for sexual exploitation, the trafficker receives all – or a significant percentage of – their earnings.
The sex industry relies on large pools of women being moved around and exploited in different locations and venues, often with coercion, debt or both involved.
But because sex trafficking demands secrecy, it’s difficult to obtain reliable statistics – and we still don’t know the exact scale of the problem.
How can you tell if someone is a victim?
Here are some of the signs that someone could be a victim of modern slavery, and what you should be looking out for.
Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse, look unkempt or malnourished, or appear withdrawn.
Victims are rarely allowed to travel on their own. They may seem under the control or influence of others, and will rarely interact with people. They may also seem unfamiliar with their neighbourhood, or the area in which they work.
POOR LIVING CONDITIONS
They may be living in cramped, dirty, overcrowded accommodation. Otherwise, they may be living and working at the same address.
FEW OR NO PERSONAL BELONGINGS
Victims are unlikely to have identification documents or many personal possessions. They may also wear the same clothes all day, every day. The clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work.
NO FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
Usually, a slavery victim’s travel documents – such as their passport – would have been retained.
UNUSUAL TRAVEL TIMES
Victims may be dropped off and collected from work on a regular basis, at unconventional times – such as very early in the morning, or very late at night.
RELUCTANT TO SEEK HELP
Victims may avoid eye contact and appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers. They may also fear law enforcement for many reasons – they may not know who they can trust or where they can get help, or they might fear being deported. They may also be scared for their family’s or their own safety.
What can I do about it?
If you suspect slavery is happening, here’s what you need to do.
- Call the police on 999 in an emergency, 101 if it is not urgent, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111
- Report the case to the Modern Slavery helpline on 0800 0121700, or
- You can report it using this online form from organisation Modern Slavery
However, do not attempt to let the victim know that you have reported it, and definitely do not confront the traffickers.
I think I might be a victim of slavery
If you think you may be a victim of modern slavery, or if you’ve been trafficked, you need to call the police on 999 and report your case to them.
As well as this, you can get various forms of help from charitable organisations that work with trafficking victims:
- Anti-Slavery International, a charity that works with trafficking victims around the world
- The Children’s Society, which runs specialist services for refugee and migrant children, as well as children who have been victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking
- BCHA, which provides specialist housing and social care support in the UK
- Migrant Help, which gives migrants in the UK the resources and support they need to find access to safe and appropriate services
- Eaves, a specialist charity for women which provides high-quality support, advocacy and accommodation to women who have been trafficked to and within the UK
- Unseen, which offers safe refuges for survivors