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It happens here: Equipping the United Kingdom to fight modern slavery

A policy report by the Slavery Working Group

Human trafficking is the recruitment and movement of people by means such as violent force, fraud, coercion or deception, or abuse of their vulnerability with the aim of exploiting them. It is modern slavery. Despite Wilberforce’s campaign in the UK a little over 200 years ago, we face the reality that there are still slaves in our sophisticated society today. The abolitionist, Ralph Waldo Emerson said: ‘If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own’. The chains may no longer be visible, but psychological ones still hold many in slavery in the UK today.

Our report explains how modern slavery in the UK manifests itself and the various forms it takes. Taking evidence from over 180 individuals and organisations across all sectors involved in anti-slavery efforts, this review is about what needs to be done if we are collectively going to eradicate modern slavery. There are no simple solutions, but we present a series of interrelated measures that, if collectively and consistently applied, will help stop modern slavery. Of fundamental importance is the understanding that modern slavery is not primarily an issue of immigration. Yet the lead in government is the Immigration Minister and the UK Border Agency has significant input on decisions over whether or not a person has been trafficked. This sends completely the wrong message. We have heard that law enforcement is often confused as to how to proceed, perceiving incorrectly the issue as one of immigration. Increasingly we are seeing that UK nationals are also forced into modern slavery, without crossing any international border. Victims of modern slavery have had a crime committed against them and our response must be the same as it would be towards any other victim of crime, regardless of their country of origin.

Modern slavery has been allowed to grow and develop in the UK because of demand. Together we have allowed human beings to be bought and sold as mere commodities for profit, gain or gratification. Systemic issues around the demand for modern slavery must be addressed and these will take a generation to deal with, but in the interim we must begin the hard work of making the UK as hostile a place as possible for these criminals to operate in, turning this crime from one of ‘low risk, high return’ to ‘high risk, low return’.