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Modern Slavery Is Alive And Well - Even In The UK. How Can You Spot It At Work?

2 November 2022

Modern slavery is present in every single area of the UK. You probably see people trapped in slavery on a regular basis. It might be someone working in a private home on your street, the man working in the car wash in town, or the cleaner who empties your office bin every night.

The Home Office reports that some 12,727 potential victims of human trafficking and modern slavery were identified in 2021 - up 20 percent on the previous year.

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Of the 28 million victims of forced labour globally, 24 million people are exploited in the private sector including in domestic work, construction and agriculture.

6 million people are victims of forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million are in forced labour imposed by state authorities.

The number of referrals for the period April 10 June 2022 was 4,171 – the highest number recorded since the national referral mechanism (NRM) was introduced in 2009. This is the government’s system for potential victims of trafficking to access support and have their cases investigated.

While the numbers of referrals are at record levels, there are also a large number of potential victims who have chosen not to be part of the NRM. Their fate is unknown. In the April to June 2022 period there were 1,125 such cases, also the highest number since these records began in November 2015. These cases include instances of labour and sexual exploitation.

Home Office Declares Modern Slavery as ‘Immigration Issue’

According to updated online ministerial profiles, the Home Office has taken the modern slavery brief away from the minister responsible for safeguarding and classified it as a "illegal immigration and asylum" issue.

The move is interpreted as a clear indication that the department is doubling down on Suella Braverman's claim that people are "gaming" the modern slavery system and that victims of crime are no longer prioritised.

Rachel Maclean, the previous safeguarding minister, had modern slavery on her official list of ministerial responsibilities, but her successor, Mims Davies, does not. Instead, modern slavery is listed at the bottom of immigration minister Tom Pursglove's "illegal immigration and asylum" brief.

How Can You Spot Modern Slavery at work?

Human exploitation can take many different forms. When a person is forced to work against their will, restricted in their movement, treated as a commodity or property, or characterised as owned or controlled by another, this is considered modern slavery. Threats, deception, or coercion are used to convince victims to become victims of human trafficking. Victims are sold for financial gain, whether within or outside their own country. Modern slavery entails forcing someone to work for little or no pay. Victims of human trafficking are frequently sold into labour exploitation. The most common form of slavery in the United Kingdom is labour exploitation.

There are a few modern slavery signs you can pay attention to and these include:

  • Evidence of a workplace being used for accommodation
  • Workers are distrustful of authorities
  • Workers look uneasy, unkempt or malnourished
  • Signs of psychological trauma
  • Untreated injuries
  • Evidence of control over movement (being picked up and dropped off in groups)
  • Signs of substance misuse
  • Workers don’t know work or home address

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