What is Modern Slavery?

The prime minister has referred to modern slavery as “the great human rights issue of our time".

Modern slavery is an extremely serious crime where people are exploited for criminal gain. The 2016 Global Slavery Index, from the Walk Free Foundation in Australia, defines slavery as "situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception".

The complexity of the crimes make it very difficult to quantify the scale of those living in modern day slavery. However, it is estimated that there are 10,000-13,000 living in the UK today and according to official figures, the number of potential victims being trafficked into Britain has risen by 245% over the last five years.

Victims of modern slavery can be targeted by traffickers through many methods, sometimes with the promise of a better life, or for employment or education. Modern Slaves are often hidden in plain sight, and are forced into labour exploitation or a life of abuse.

Forms of Exploitation

  • Forced labour
  • Debt bondage
  • Human trafficking
  • Forced marriage

What is the ‘Modern Slavery Act?’

In response to the government’s commitment to strengthen the UK's law response to Modern Slavery, The Modern Slavery Act of 2015 was formed.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015, was designed to tackle slavery in the UK and to consolidate previous offences relating to trafficking and slavery. The Acts aims to “make the UK a hostile environment for modern slave drivers”, enhance support and protection for victims, and disrupt organised crime groups.

“The Modern Slavery Act will give law enforcement the tools to fight modern slavery, ensure perpetrators can receive suitably severe punishments for these appalling crimes” and has also placed a mandatory duty on public sector professionals to report known cases of slavery to the anti-slavery commissioner. It is therefore essential that relevant individuals and public bodies understand their responsibilities under the Act.

Key points from the Act:

  • Ensure that perpetrators receive suitably severe punishments for modern slavery crimes (including life sentences)
  • Create an independent anti-slavery commissioner to improve and better coordinate the response to modern slavery
  • Introduce a defence for victims of slavery and trafficking
  • Make provision for independent child trafficking advocates
  • Introduce a new reparation order to encourage the courts to compensate victims where assets are confiscated from perpetrators
  • Enable law enforcement to stop boats where slaves are suspected of being held or trafficked

The bill also requires businesses over a certain size to disclose each year what action they have taken to ensure there is no modern slavery in their business or supply chains. Organisations are to publish an annual statement to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in their business or supply chain.

Meet the experts:

Caroline Haughey, Member of the Prime Ministers Modern Slavery Task Force and Author of the Modern Slavery Act Review

Caroline is a leading barrister and was commissioned by the Prime Minister to review the impact of the Modern Slavery Act. She is also a member of the Prime Ministers Modern Slavery task force. Caroline was instructed as counsel in the first slavery case in Britain under the Coroners Act 2009 and has subsequently been instructed as leading counsel for the Crown in some of the most serious and high profile trafficking cases since. As a result of her experience she has advised the Government on the new Trafficking Bill, given evidence before the Inter-Parliamentary Committee and been part of the legal steering committee that has been involved in drafting the Bill.

Dr Mike Emberson, CEO, The Medaille Trust

Dr Mike Emberson has been involved in anti-trafficking work since 2003.  The Medaille Trust currently runs eleven safe houses offering 118 bed spaces for victims of human trafficking in the UK which he oversees together with Medaille’s international work and their domestic programme of education and awareness raising.

Phil Brewer, Detective Chief Inspector, Metropolitan Police Modern Slavery & Kidnap Unit

Phil Brewer currently leads the Metropolitan Police Modern Slavery & Kidnap Unit (MSKU), a team of 80 officers targeting organised criminal networks operating in London and beyond.
Phil has significant experience in tackling serious & organised crime. He has served on a number of specialist teams including The Paedophile Unit and dedicated proactive squads. He moved to The Kidnap Unit in 2013 and has played a key role in the formation of the Trafficking and Kidnap Unit, now the MSKU, in May 2014.

Craig Barlow, Independent Forensic Social Worker and Criminologist

Craig is an Independent Consultant in Forensic Social Work with over 25 years experience in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults and management and assessment of violent and sexual offenders. He acts as an Expert Witness to the Family Courts, and works regularly as an Expert Advisor to the Prosecution in cases of Trafficking of Human Beings, Modern Slavery, Servitude and Sexual Exploitation.