Human Trafficking Foundation
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The Issue

What is human trafficking?

What is Human Trafficking?

The UN defined human trafficking in the Palermo Protocol as the ‘recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threat, or use of force, coercion or deception…to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation’ . According to this definition, trafficking includes sexual exploitation, forced and bonded labour, domestic servitude, any form of slavery and removal of organs.

Human Trafficking =  Act + Means + Purpose

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All 3 components must be present for an adult to be considered trafficked. However, as regards children, the ‘means’ component is not required as they are not able to give consent

What is Modern Slavery?

The Home Office has described modern slavery as “a serious and brutal crime in which people are treated as commodities and exploited for criminal gain. The true extent of modern slavery in the UK, and indeed globally, is unknown".

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 encompasses human trafficking as well as slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour

“Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.” HM Government

Modern Slavery = Means + Purpose

It does not necessarily include the ‘Act’ element of the human trafficking process 

In practice, the terms modern slavery and human trafficking are often used interchangeably


Trafficking in the uk

In 2018, 6,993 potential victims from 130 different countries were referred into the National Referral Mechanism to be identified as survivors of trafficking and to receive support.

In reality, the extent of human trafficking in the UK is likely to be far greater than the NRM statistics would suggest. The Home Office has estimated in its Modern Slavery Strategy that there may be as many as 13,000 people held in slavery in the UK, while the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index estimates the language direct

Exploitation in the UK takes a variety of forms, but most commonly forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and forced criminal activity.

A full breakdown of the NRM statistics can be found here.

Consent is irrelevant to exploitation: The Palermo Protocol and Home Office guidance both make clear that a person cannot consent to their own exploitation: “An individual’s consent to the conduct alleged to amount to slavery servitude or forced or compulsory labour does not prevent the offence being committed.”

Exploitation need not have taken place yet to constitute slavery or human trafficking: Home Office guidance states that: “Under the Convention, a person is a ‘victim’ even if they haven’t been exploited yet…it is the purpose which is key, rather than whether or not exploitation has actually occurred...victims may have experienced serious trauma in their home country or on the way to the UK and may still be in need of support.”

The crime of slavery overrides any illegal immigration or other minor offences: Karen Bradley, former Minister: “The intent of the offence of illegal working is clear; it is not aimed at the victims of modern slavery.” The person exploiting an individual should be the focus of the primary law enforcement effort, while victims of slavery should be treated as victims rather than perpetrators of crime.  An accusation of theft or illegal migration should not take precedence.

Victims of slavery often do not fit a stereotype: Victims of human trafficking can come from a variety of backgrounds including being well educated and from wealthy families. Adult men and boys can be victims of trafficking in similar types of exploitation to women and girls, and many victims of slavery come from the UK as well as abroad.  Traffickers may also not fit an expected profile and may appear to be outwardly respectable and likeable people.

People rarely self-identify as victim of trafficking/slavery or easily reveal their experiences: Victims may not self-identify as a victim of trafficking for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to: fear of reprisals from their exploiters; the impact of trauma on their ability to recall and disclose their experiences; stigma; and an unwillingness to consider them self as a 'victim'. They are also unlikely to be familiar with terms such as trafficking or modern slavery. 

Not all migrants working illegally are trafficked: While not all victims will identify as victims of trafficking it is important to also recognise that not all migrants working in the UK, for example, for less than the minimum wage or in an illegal activity have been trafficked. 

Smuggling is not trafficking: Frontline staff must also avoid confusing human trafficking with human smuggling. In smuggling  cases, asylum seekers and immigrants pay people to help them enter the country illegally. This is a crime against the state rather than a crime against an individual. Smugglers provide an (illegal) service rather than treating a person as a commodity. It is also short-term rather long term with a one off payment rather than ongoing appropriation.

However it is important to note that trafficking victims may start out believing that they are being smuggled, and be free on arrival but end up in a potentially exploitative situation, where they are forced to work to pay off their ‘debts’, which may be  increased over time to retain control over them.


Sex trafficking

Idora was trafficked to the UK from Nigeria. She was training as a primary school teacher when a man befriended her and offered her a cleaning job in the UK earning enough money to fulfill her dream of going to university. 

Before leaving Nigeria she was made to participate in a witchcraft ceremony, drinking a mixture of the inside of a hen, and promising never to disobey him or else she would go mad. She was given false documents, including a script of what to tell border officials in the UK.

Idora was collected at the airport and driven to a house in London, where she was locked in a room with three other women and sexually exploited for several months. All the whole she lived in fear of the witchcraft controlling her.

Following a police raid, she was placed in a detention centre and then a hostel. However Idora returned to her trafficker for fear that they would harm her mother in Lagos. She was exploited for a further 7 months before a second police raid placed her in an NGO-run shelter.


Labour Trafficking

Mike lost his job during the financial crash and was sleeping rough when he was approached by two men. They offered him work near London. 

He was taken to an old dirty shed with a tin roof where he was to live, shared with another man. Every day they were picked up by a van at 7am. They spent the day knocking doors asking people if they wanted any work done, such as digging patios or making drive-ways. The were picked-up at 9pm. If they didn’t get back in time, they were beaten. Mike and the other men were all afraid of the beatings, and worked 6 days a week unpaid. When one of the men tried to escape, he was beaten with a spanner.

Mike was rescued in a police raid. He described how all the workers look 'skinny and unwell, as if we had all been in a concentration camp'. 


Child Trafficking 

Cristina was 16 when her mother forced her into prostitution to help cover the cost of their home in Romania.  One client, Sorin, suggested babysitting work in the UK. Cristina didn't trust him when he provided false ID, but her mother wanted her to go.

Sorin drove them from the airport to a house in Birmingham.  There, a man and woman controlled three girls who worked for them in their spa salon doing massage. She was given the name Roxie and sexually exploited for more than a year. 

One day she was questioned by the police. As she didn't speak English she couldn't understand their questions. They took her to a police station where she spent a night in a cell. When she was able to speak through an interpreter she testified against her traffickers and was placed in local authority care. Her traffickers have since attempted to kidnap her from care. 


Domestic Servitude

Rohiti grew up in Indonesia. When her single mother became sick Rohiti had to find work. When she couldn't find work in her village she went to Hong Kong, hoping to earn enough to support her mother.

She was tasked with looking after three children 24 hours a day along with other household chores. She worked for 7 months but wasn’t paid - her 'employer' told Rohiti that she had to pay off the debt of her travel. The employers then arranged a ‘holiday’ to the UK, which turned out to be 16 hours work a day, sleeping on the floor, always on call, caring for the elderly grandparents as well. 

Despite fearing homelessness and deportation, Rohiti ran away. She found an NGO to help her and offer advice, however with no right to remain in the UK she was forced to return home with nothing. The family who exploited her went unpunished.


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Human Trafficking Foundation Reports and Publications

Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration for Survivors of Modern Slavery (2019) The Human Trafficking Foundation and International Organization for Migration (IOM) conducted a survey on behalf of the International Policy Working Group to develop understanding of the Home Office-run Voluntary Returns Scheme. The findings highlight the overall picture for survivors returning from the UK is inconsistent, with participants expressing real concerns about safety and risk assessments, lack of information about and contacts with support providers in countries of origin and a lack of clarity and gaps in the current processes.

Places of Safety: 10 Core Principles (2018) in partnership with the British Red Cross, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) and Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU), the Human Trafficking Foundation established 10 core principles as minimum standards for the new Places of Safety which will be introduced as part of important NRM reforms to improve support for survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery.

Trafficking Survivor Care Standards (2018) a blueprint for UK-wide service providers offering high quality care to adult survivors of modern slavery. The previous edition published in 2015 can be found here

Life Beyond the Safe House for survivors of modern slavery in London (2015) highlights the gaps in victim support in the UK and makes recommendations to improve provision

Consultation on the Mayor’s Draft Police and Crime Plan for London (2016) with joint submissions and 21 signatories.

Day 46: Is there life after the safe house for survivors of modern slavery? (2016) follows the lives of survivors after they left the safe house

Nobody deserves to live this way! (2017) Inquiry into the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors in parts of Europe. 

Other reports considering human trafficking in the UK

Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group

Brexit and the UK's fight against modern slavery (2017) explores issue which might arise in victim support and law enforcement response to modern slavery as a result of UK leaving the EU

Class Acts? Examining Modern Slavery Legislation across the UK (2016) analyses anti-slavery legislation across the UK and highlights significant differences in a number of key areas across the three jurisdictions. 

Time to Deliver (2016) analyses how the victims of trafficking who are pregnant or have children are 'systematically overlooked' in the UK's anti-trafficking response

Hidden in Plain Sight (2013) analyses the UK's response to trafficking 4 years on from the Council of Europe anti-trafficking Convention coming into force

In the Dock (2013) examines the effectiveness of the UK's criminal justice system's response to trafficking

All Change (2012) examines whether trafficking prevention measures in the UK are in accordance with the Council of Europe anti-trafficking Convention

Wrong Kind of Victim? (2010) examines the National Referral Mechanism and concludes that it is 'not fit for purpose'

Centre for Social Justice

It Happens Here (2013) reveals the problem of human trafficking the UK and calls on the Government to take a more direct approach to tackling the problem


Better Support, Better Protection (2017) steps lawyers and guardians can take to better identify and protect trafficked children

Heading Back to Harm (2016) a study on trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing from care in the UK

APPG on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery

Inquiry into collection, exchange and use of data about human trafficking and modern slavery (2014) highlights the need to improve systems of data collection on human trafficking 

London Assembly

Shadow City (2013) explores the nature of the problem of human trafficking in London 

Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner

Strategic Plan 2015-2017 (2015) outlines the Commissioner's priorities over a 2 year period, as required by the Modern Slavery Act

Annual Report 2015-2016 (2016) a report from the Commissioner outline his work over the first 12 months of being in office


Second Round Evaluation of the UK (2016) a second review of the UK's implementation of the Council of Europe Convention

First Round Evaluation of the UK (2012) a review of the UK's implementation of the Council of Europe's anti-trafficking Convention by the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings