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Modern slavery

What is modern slavery?

Spotting the signs and risk factors

Resources and further information 


What is modern slavery?

Someone is considered a victim of modern slavery if they are:

  • forced to work - through coercion, or mental or physical threat
  • owned or controlled by an 'employer', through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as 'property'
  • physically constrained or have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement


Traffickers and slave drivers coerce, deceive and force individuals against their will into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.

Victims may be sexually exploited, forced to work for little or no pay or forced to commit criminal activities against their will. Victims are often pressured into debt-bondage and are likely to be fearful of those who exploit them, who will often threaten and abuse victims and their families. All of these factors make it very difficult for victims to escape.

Modern Slavery crimes are being committed across the UK and are taking place in many different sectors including factories, fields, brothels, nail bars and even within people's homes. There is no typical victim of slavery - victims can be men, women or children of all ages and nationalities.

Many victims are brought to the UK specifically so they can be abused and exploited for the benefit of others. Some are tricked into believing they are simply paying others to facilitate their journey to the UK, or that they are being smuggled here. Many often do not find out that they are destined for a life of abuse and servitude until after they arrive. However, we also know a high number of victims are UK nationals, including children.

The true extent of modern slavery in the UK and globally is unknown, but the best estimates suggest that there are between 10-13,000 victims currently in the UK and up to 45,000,000 worldwide (Global Slavery Index 2016).

The reality is that it is happening around us, in our towns and cities, it could be happening right in front of your eyes. 

Slavery is closer than you think - watch the Modern Slavery campaign TV advert to find out more

Modern Slavery is closer than you think: Understanding Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking

  • if you believe a person is being trafficked and is in immediate danger, you should call 999 straight away
  • you can also report suspicions of trafficking by calling 101 or visiting your local police station
  • you can also provide information to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111
  • if you want to refer someone for accommodation support contact The Salvation Army (opens new window), who run a 24-hour confidential referral helpline on 0300 3038151 available 24 hours a day, seven days a week


Spotting the signs and risk factors

Risk factors

Anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and sexuality, can be at risk of modern slavery. However, traffickers or modern slavery facilitators often target vulnerable individuals as they are easier to coerce. Particularly vulnerable groups include:

  • poor people
  • homeless people / missing from homes
  • alcoholics or drug addicts
  • people who lack education
  • children brought up in social care
  • mentally and/or physically ill people
  • victims of domestic violence
  • illegal immigrants
  • former victims of modern slavery and human trafficking


Spotting the signs

General indicators

Trafficking victims are often lured into another country by false promises and so may not easily trust others. They may:

  • be fearful of police / authorities
  • be fearful of the trafficker, believing their lives or family members lives are at risk if they escape
  • exhibit signs of physical and psychological trauma e.g. anxiety, lack of memory of recent events bruising, untreated conditions
  • be fearful of telling others about their situation
  • be unaware they have been trafficked and believe they are simply in a bad job
  • have limited freedom of movement
  • be unpaid or paid very little
  • have limited access to medical care
  • seem to be in debt to someone
  • have no passport or mention that someone else is holding their passport
  • be regularly moved to avoid detection


Sexual exploitation

Victims being forced into non-consensual or abusive sexual acts.

There are many signs to look out for including the following:

  • physical injuries
  • evidence of physical abuse
  • visible emotional distress
  • someone who is uncommunicative, tense and fails to make eye contact
  • signs of sexual abuse, and / or sexually transmitted diseases


Labour exploitation

Victims being compelled to work long hours, often in hard conditions and to hand the majority of their wages to traffickers.

There are many signs to look out for including the following:

  • evidence of sexual abuse and threats of violence
  • excessive dependence on employers or third parties
  • excessive working hours
  • sub-standard living conditions
  • wages being withheld or excessive wage reductions
  • no access to documents - passport, ID, wage slips, bank cards
  • restriction of movement and confinement, to the workplace or to a limited area


Domestic servitude

Victims being forced to work in private households, performing tasks such as childcare and housekeeping, over long hours for little pay.

There are many signs to look out for including the following:

  • poor living conditions - someone living in dirty cramped or overcrowded accommodation, and / or living and working at the same address
  • few or no personal effects - victims may have no identification documents, have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes. What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work
  • reluctance to seek help - victims may avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to talk to strangers and fear police


Criminal activities

Victims are being forces to take part in criminal activities such as cannabis farming.

There are many signs to look out for including:

  • properties where the curtains or blinds are closed at a property all the time
  • pungent smell coming from the property
  • unusual noises coming from the property
  • visitors at unusual times day or night


For further information to deliver to staff teams please download the Modern Slavery Presentation - for partner agencies (PDF) [1MB]  presentation.


Resources and further information

Modern Slavery Helpline - (opens new window)


We have collated links to resources that we think frontline professionals will find useful, if there are any we are missing let us know.

Further Information

Modern slavery awareness and victim identification guidance (PDF) [212KB]

Care of unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery - Statutory guidance for local authorities (opens new window)

Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked - practice guidance (Home Office, 2011) (opens new window) - non-statutory government good practice guidance

UK Modern Slavery Helpline and Resource Centre - Unseen (Registered Charity)
08000 121 700 (opens new window)

NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC) (opens new window) - specialist advice and information to professionals who have concerns that a child may have been trafficked Duty to notify the Home Office of potential victims of modern slavery - guidance and forms (opens new window)

Home Office Circular - Modern Slavery Act 2015 (opens new window) Modern slavery: duty to notify - Factsheet and posters (opens new window) How to report modern slavery - Guidance (Home Office, 2016) (opens new window) Victims of modern slavery - guidance for frontline staff (opens new window) - guidance for how UK Visa and Immigration identifies and helps potential victims of modern slavery Processing children's asylum claims - guidance (opens new window)- sets out the process which immigration officials follow in determining an asylum claim from a child and the possible outcomes for the child

Victims of Human Trafficking: Competent Authority Guidance  - guidance advising staff in competent authorities how to deal with victims of human trafficking National referral mechanism - guidance for child first responders (opens new window) - provides details on how to refer a child into the NRM and complete the referral form, reviews of decisions and the benefits of referral National transfer procedure on transferring unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) - guidance (opens new window) - interim national transfer procedure and transfer flow chart for the safe transfer of UASC from one UK local authority to another Child protection: working with foreign authorities - guidance (opens new window) - guidance on child protection cases and care orders where the child has links to a foreign country

Local Government Association: Council support - refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children (opens new window) - resource for council staff, designed to answer questions about supporting refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children Unaccompanied asylum seeking children and leaving care - funding instructions (opens new window) - 28 April 2014, Guidance, UKVI: Instructions to local authorities about the UASC funding (2013 to 2014) for the support and care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

Modern Slavery Act 2015 (opens new window)

Modern slavery Act 2015 - Recent Developments (Briefing paper, October 2017) (PDF) [732KB]

College of Policing - Modern Slavery (opens new window)

NSPCC - Improving Coordination and Accountability towards Romanian Unaccompanied minors’ Safety (ICARUS) leaflets (opens new window)

Modern slavery - Royal College of Nursing Guide for Nurses and Midwives (opens new window)

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: Refugee and unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people (opens new window)

Refugee Council: Children's Panel - national remit to offer advice and support to unaccompanied children, and advise other professionals who are involved in their care (opens new window)

National Crime Agency: Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) (opens new window)

Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (opens new window) Support for victims of modern slavery - guidance leaflet (opens new window) National referral mechanism - guidance for child first responders (opens new window) Modern slavery - documents and promotional material (opens new window)

The Salvation Army - human trafficking (opens new window)

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