Modern slavery refers to slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking, as defined by the United Kingdom’s (UK) Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Modern Slavery Act, 2015: c.30, 01). The Modern Slavery Act was passed to: 1) increase parameters for law enforcement agencies to address modern slavery, 2) increase support provided to victims, 3) require public and private businesses (who meet criteria, e.g. have a global net turnover of £36 million+) to adhere to provisions of the Act. Most importantly, they are required to publish a statement clarifying the steps taken to ensure there is no modern slavery in their business or supply chains. International Protocol such as the Palermo Protocol and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court also inform national policy to combat trafficking and modern slavery. In the UK, this has resulted in the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which processes potential victims of modern slavery.


It is estimated that in the United Kingdom in 2018, 136,000 people were exploited in different forms of modern slavery, with the estimated proportion of the population to be living in modern slavery to be 2.08 out of 1,000 people (Global Slavery Index (GSI), 2019). Britain is both a source and destination country for victims of modern slavery, with rising numbers of British citizens being identified as victims of modern slavery (Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, 2019). Potential victims of modern slavery and exploitation who are UK nationals has increased by nearly 100% since 2017, from 820 referrals of potential victims (UK nationals) in 2017 to 1,625 referrals in 2018 (NCA, 2019: 01). Potential victims can be adults, children, male or female.

In 2018, the NRM documented a 36% increase in victims of modern slavery from 2017 (NCA, 2019: 01). Modern slavery takes many forms, including forced sexual exploitation, domestic slavery and forced labour (Anti Slavery Country Profile). In the UK, labour trafficking is most common but a growing trend is trafficking into crime. This often involves entrapping British children into drug trafficking and Vietnamese nationals forced to work in cannabis production. 45% of NRM cases were referred as minors, highlighting the need to focus efforts on lowering vulnerability of at-risk children and youth from exploitation in all its forms.

Common risk factors include poverty, poor educational attainment, a lack of cultural and/or social capital, and homelessness. Many victims have already faced abuse in their life, including childhood sexual abuse. Generally, victims of modern slavery are often recruited when highly vulnerable (for example when battling a substance addiction or homeless) and when they display low self-esteem, poor judgement, neediness and lack of support systems (Slavin, 2002). These characteristics allow for manipulative predators to gain the trust of their victims. Exploiters may claim they will ‘protect’ and ‘care’ for the individual and promise them hospitality, domestic, and retail work (Roby, 2005: 139).

The most common reported exploitation type among potential adult victims was labour exploitation (44%) followed by sexual exploitation (39%). These statistics did not change greatly when looking at potential child victims, for whom the most common reported exploitation type was also labour exploitation (48%), followed by sexual exploitation (27%) (Annual Report on Modern Slavery, 2018: 11).