Modern slavery

Modern slavery is a type of domestic abuse. It is where someone is exploited for personal or commercial gain – even if it seems that they are doing normal jobs. Most commonly, people are threatened with violence, debt or losing their right to remain in the country. Over 10, 000 people were identified as at risk of modern slavery in the UK in 2019.

What are the types and signs of modern slavery?

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery which involves coercing someone through violence or threats into work, marriage or organ removal. People are often transported for these purposes against their will too.

Forced and early marriage is when someone does not or cannot consent to their marriage but they are forced to go ahead with it regardless.

Debt bondage is the most common type and involves forced labour in order to repay debt, which results in a loss of control of working conditions and finances.

People end up in modern slavery often as a result of poverty. This includes people coming from abroad to the UK for a supposed better life for them and their families. These people are often susceptible to trickery and exploitation and live on the fringes of society, particularly if they are new arrivals in a country.

Signs of modern slavery include:

  • Refusal to provide name or contact information
  • No identification documents
  • Malnourished or dishevelled appearance
  • Being in the presence of a translator or controller
  • Apparent fear of authority

How can someone get help relating to modern slavery?

There are many charities (some of which are linked in the signposting section of this page) which can provide confidential advice for victims of modern slavery.

The Modern Slavery Helpline (08000 121 700) is available to inform someone who thinks they may be a victim of modern slavery of their options. These include government-funded support (which someone can be referred to via the police as part of the National Referral Mechanism).

The UK Government will provide at least 45 days’ emergency accommodation for someone who is a victim of modern slavery.

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority also has a helpline to allow someone to report mistreatment of workers (0800 432 0804)

Someone can report modern slavery to the police on 999, including on behalf of someone else. There is also a silent call function for people who are not safe to make a verbal call. This can be activated by ringing 999, then pressing 55.

A GP can also refer someone who they suspect has been subject to modern slavery to the relevant sources of help. For example, a counselling or other mental health service, to help them deal with their experiences.

UK Says No More is an organisation which supports pharmacies across the country to provide safe spaces for people experiencing all forms of domestic abuse and who are seeking support – a service which is all the more crucial during the pandemic.

There are a few ways to confirm what sort of reasonable adjustments should be made for someone who may be subject to modern slavery or human trafficking:

Employers are being increasingly encouraged to help employees who are, or may be, experiencing domestic abuse, including modern slavery. 

A Public Health England toolkit was published in 2018, outlining guidance for employers on helping tackle modern slavery and other forms of domestic abuse among their employees.

Statistics published in the introduction to the toolkit state that over half of medium and large employers surveyed saw increased rates of absenteeism in employees experiencing domestic abuse, as well as reduced performance.

As employers are legally obliged to provide a safe working environment as part of their duty of care to employees, they should encourage employees to disclose modern slavery if they can and following this, implement reasonable adjustments or seek to help in other ways.

How can employers respond to employees experiencing modern slavery?

An employer who is concerned that an employee may be at risk of, or a victim of, modern slavery (since in instances of modern slavery, not all employers may be aware that an employee has been recruited through abusive means) can refer to the help section above.

The Public Health England toolkit recommends that employers take the following three-step approach with relation to abuse more generally, which includes modern slavery:

  • Acknowledge the abuse – in this case, modern slavery – by encouraging employees to disclose and discuss it
  • Respond by reviewing workplace safeguarding policies and ensuring that employees are given the support they need in the workplace
  • Refer the employee(s) to charities and health services who can help advise them on how to deal with their experience of modern slavery in the short and longer terms (see signposting section).

Reasonable adjustments should also be made in accordance with the employee’s need for support if their situation is covered by the Equality Act – including long-term mental health difficulties such as anxiety or PTSD, physical injuries, etc.

Some reasonable adjustments to allow an employee who has experienced modern slavery to work as effectively and comfortably might include:

  • Flexible working hours to accommodate an employee’s medical/therapy appointments if they are seeking help to improve their mental or physical health linked to their past enslavement.
  • Adjustments to duties depending on the extent of the impact of the past abuse. If an employee is struggling with stress or anxiety, they may be best taking on lighter, less taxing duties, for example.
  • Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the importance of modern slavery awareness and indicators that someone may be a victim.

Modern slavery Signposting

Unseen UK – charity which provides a safe house for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking, both men and women. This is part of the charity’s three-pronged approach to working towards a world free of slavery: supporting victims, equipping them and influencing those with legislative and other powers (08000 121 700).

Hope for Justice – charity working in the UK and elsewhere to end modern slavery through preventing exploitation before it has a chance to occur. The charity also provides resources and support to those who have been enslaved so that they can rebuild their lives (0300 008 8000).

Anti-Slavery International (UK)charity lobbying for legislation to combat slavery and to protect those who find themselves enslaved, as well as raising awareness at a local level among the public and authorities (020 7737 9434).

Human Trafficking Foundation – organisation committed to improving legislation on modern slavery and human trafficking through work with government departments, local authorities and the police (020 3773 2040).

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