Modern slavery cases ‘in every large town and city’ in UK

A file picture of a teenager with mental health issues

Modern slavery and human trafficking are much more prevalent than previously thought, the National Crime Agency has said.

There are cases in “every large town and city in the country”, the NCA said, with the organisation currently assisting 300 live police operations targeting modern slavery.

The cases involve alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe.

Will Kerr, NCA director of vulnerabilities, said: “The more that we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable.

“The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone previously thought.

“This should not be acceptable in any way, shape or form.”

The NCA has launched an advertising campaign to raise awareness of the signs of modern slavery in everyday life.


Modern slavery risk on rise in European supply chains

modern slavery human rights

The European migrant crisis is forcing a sharp rise in human rights risks in European supply chains. This includes the UK and Germany, which have moved up from ‘low’ to ‘medium’ risk in the annual Modern Slavery Index, released by global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

In fact, modern slavery risks have risen in 20 of the 28 member states of the EU over the last year, the research finds – a reminder of the importance of transparent supply chains and efficient due diligence.

The study ranks 198 countries, assessing them on the strength of their laws, the effectiveness of their enforcement and the severity of violations. The higher the rank, the higher the risk.

Verisk Maplecroft points to the arrival of migrant populations in Europe as a key contributor for the increase in slavery, who it says are “extremely vulnerable to exploitation” across multiple sectors, including agriculture, construction and services.

The five EU countries posing the highest risk are Romania, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria – countries that are key entry points for migrants into the region.

Romania and Italy, in particular, are highlighted as being the two EU countries with the worst reported violations, including severe forms of forced labour, such as servitude and trafficking. Romania rose as many as 56 places to rank 66, and is thus deemed as the country with the most deteriorating slavery situation globally.

Italy, which comes at place 133, is up 17 places from last year, and Verisk Maplecroft expects the country’s score to only worsen over the next year due to “geographic shift in migrant sea arrivals”, with the agriculture sector being at especially high risk.

Greece remains a key destination for human trafficking, the consultancy says. The country moved up 16 places in the index to 129 – this despite a dramatic fall in immigrants in Greece since the 2016 signing of the EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement.

“Even the EU’s biggest economies are not immune to the rise in slavery risk,” the report says, pointing to Germany and the UK, which slipped from the ‘low’ to ‘medium’ risk category after a slight negative shift in their scores. This is attributed to gaps in the UK’s labour inspectorate and Germany’s uptick in recorded trafficking and servitude violations.

Outside of the EU, Turkey experienced the world’s second-largest jump in the index, from 110 place up to 58, thus moving into the ‘high risk’ category. This was triggered by various factors, including the Syrian refugee influx, Turkey’s restrictive work permit system and the low priority for policing labour violations.


New supply chain focus

While key manufacturing hubs in Asia have traditionally been in focus when companies assess human rights risks, there is good reason to take notice of the developments in Europe, says Sam Haynes, senior human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft.

“The migrant crisis has increased the risk of slavery incidents appearing in company supply chains across Europe. It is no longer just the traditional sourcing hotspots in the emerging economies that businesses should pay attention to when risk assessing their suppliers and the commodities they source,” he says.

Human rights issues not only pose a huge reputational risk– they could also become a legal one, especially with emerging legislation on modern slavery and human rights appearing in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Australia.

Verisk Maplecroft’s findings come just a few weeks after a study revealed huge weaknesses in companies’ efforts to secure responsible supply chains. Surveying business executives from corporates around the world, the Economist Intelligence Unit found that only 22% are addressing child labour concerns in the supply chain, 23% are actively tackling climate change, and just 32% ensure they aren’t sourcing from areas affected by conflict and violence. Despite this, only 2% of respondents thought their companies had irresponsible supply chains.

On its findings, Verisk Maplecroft notes that despite the higher risk in Europe, the “top sourcing locations in the emerging markets should remain firmly on the radar of companies”.

Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand, for example, all feature in the ‘extreme’ or ‘high’ risk categories. Ranked 21, China remains firmly established among the worst performing countries. The index’s highest ranking nations include North Korea, Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, DR Congo, Sudan, Iran, Libya, Eritrea and Turkmenistan.


Trump’s immigration crackdown could increase modern day slavery

People hoping to reach the border.

Donald Trump’s plans to sharply reduce undocumented migrantscoming into the US. However, the president’s harder line on deporting these immigrants is likely to increase the number of people at risk of modern slavery, says a human rights analyst.

Alexandra Channer of risk-management consultancy Verisk Maplecroft says that the number of people at risk of becoming a modern slave will increase if the Trump administration doesn’t address the “drivers” of illegal immigration in tandem with introducing stricter rules on deportation.

“Policies that increase the costs of trafficking, such as tighter enforcement of deportation rules and restricting the protections offered by sanctuary cities, will push undocumented migrants further into the hands of the criminal gangs involved in border trafficking and the procurement of undocumented workers,” she said, ahead of the release of Verisk Maplecroft’s Modern Slavery 2017 index. She continued:

“Migrants will be ever more dependent on trafficking networks for survival and fewer will report entrapment and labor abuses to the authorities for fear of deportation. Increases in such violations pose a risk to companies sourcing goods from the US, especially from the agricultural sector, as well as within the services industry.”

Verisk Maplecroft uses “modern slavery” as an umbrella term for those forced into labor, servitude, and the trafficking of people. In its annual report, the group assessed 198 countries on the strength of their law enforcement and legal structures, effectiveness of their enforcement, and severity of violations to calculate its rankings.

The US ranked 135th, and is categorized as “medium risk.” Channer notes, however, that the country’s score “sits very close to the threshold for high risk.”

By comparison, the UK is 180th in rankings and Germany is 184th.

Selected countries in the Modern Slavery Index

Country Ranking (1=worst)
North Korea 1
Syria 2
South Sudan 3
United States 135
United Kingdom 180
Germany 184
Andorra 198

Rachel Griffiths throws support behind bid to end modern slavery

Child slavery victim Sophea Touch with actor Rachel Griffiths.

As a nation, we need to be better educated about the illegal trade happening in our own backyard, award-winning actor Rachel Griffiths says.

The star of iconic Australian film Muriel’s Wedding, as well as hit TV series Six Feet Under and Brothers & Sisters, has thrown her support behind a push to bring in new laws stopping slavery.

Actor’s advocacy past:

  • In 1997 Griffiths flashed her breasts at the opening of Crown casino, reportedly saying the venue was “raping our state of dignity”
  • Griffiths joins women and children’s rights group Hagar Australia as its patron in 2012
  • She was credited with being an early supporter in a move to cancel passports of convicted sex offenders
  • In 2015, Griffiths spoke out about the history of abuse at a Melbourne church which was destroyed by fire

She appeared in Melbourne on Wednesday as part of an inquiry looking at whether UK laws to stop modern slavery could be put in place in Australia.

The laws would include requirements for businesses to report on how they have stamped out modern slavery from their global supply chains.

Griffiths, who appeared as a patron of child protection organisation Hagar Australia, said an estimated 45 million people were trapped in slavery around the world.

“Human beings should never be treated as commodities,” she said.

“It’s astounding that so many still believe that slavery is a horror of the past, that it’s been nobly all but eradicated by an enlightened and globalised world.

“The truth is that there are more people in slavery today than any other time in history.

“It’s the second biggest illicit trade behind drugs on our planet. It’s happening mostly in our region. It’s happening via international criminal networks, it permeates labour from sex work to fishing to construction to domestic services.”

Child exploitation fears drive push to outlaw ‘orphanage tourism’

It could become a crime to organise trips for Australians to visit orphanages in countries like Cambodia.

Griffiths, who has spoken out in the past against child sex abuse and gambling, said change needed come from all quarters.

“We as a nation need to fully understand who these players are, how they operate and what mechanisms we have to thwart their operations,” she said.

“I feel very positively that we can make, as Australians and individual consumers, a considerable impact.

“It’s closer to home than many of us ever believed. It’s a shocking truth that slavery-like practices are being employed by suspect operators here in Australia.

“Not every business can see the edge transparency gives them in an ethically competitive market.

“We do believe in order to make such practices the norm, government, business civil society and media must join forces to enact and support a modern slavery act.”

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

VIDEO: Modern slavery in Australia “hidden in plain sight” (7.30)

Orphanage tourism must stop, Griffiths says

Sophea Touch, a victim of child slavery from Cambodia, told the hearing she was forced into work after she was removed from her family at the age of four.

Ms Touch broke down as she recounted how she was forced to sell cakes as a child at villages and was beaten or starved if she did not sell enough.

“I wanted to be like other children that they could go to school, have friends, [be] loved,” she said.

“Every day I lived with fear because I had to sell all the cakes.”

She said she moved from family to family and continually faced violence.

Ms Touch said she tried to end her own life twice before she found Hagar. She said her life turned around when she was placed with a new family and given a support counsellor.

“I felt so hopeless because I thought there was not any other better ways for me,” she said.

“[Now] I have mum and I have dad.

“They loved and cared for me. That, I have never received before.”

Griffiths said Australian organisations needed to understand how orphanage tourism impacts countries like Cambodia.

“Australian organisations such as schools, universities, communities, sport and faith-based groups need to become better educated about the orphanage economy, the negative outcomes for children that our engagement is causing,” she said.

“Vulnerable children should not be visited by Australians who lack protection, training and skills to engage appropriately with children who have experienced trauma.

“Parents living in poverty should not be incentivised to break


‘I slept on the floor in a flat near Harrods’: stories of modern slavery

When Elvira arrived at Heathrow in 2014, she thought she had escaped the abuse she’d faced as a domestic worker in Qatar. Yet the exploitation the Filipino woman was about to suffer would surpass anything she experienced in the Middle East. The 50-year-old was taken to a luxury flat in Kensington, where her boss, the sister of her “madam” in Qatar, made her work 20 hours a day, allowing her only one piece of bread and no wages. She was trapped in a life of servitude, while metres away central London bustled with shoppers.

More than 200 years since it was abolished, slavery is thriving. The UN’s International Labour Organisation estimates that 21 million people around the world are trapped in some form of modern slavery. In many cases, the physical shackles of the past have been replaced by less visible but equally effective forms of coercion and control: a worker on a factory line crippled by recruitment debts he or she cannot pay back; a man on a construction site in a foreign country without his passport or wages; a woman selling drugs on a roadside threatened with beatings and rape if she doesn’t earn enough. Dig deep into the supply chain of the world’s major commodities, and you’ll find instances of slavery. From the food we eat to the phones we use and the clothes we wear, its influence is pervasive.

Record numbers of people are fleeing violence and poverty, and traffickers are ready to exploit them. The International Office for Migration believes 70% of migrants arriving in Europe by boat have been victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking or exploitation. In the UK, the government estimates there are 13,000 people trapped in slavery, working in hotels, care homes, nail bars and car washes, or locked in private houses that have been turned into brothels.

“As a business model, slavery is a no-brainer,” says Siddharth Kara, an economist and director of human trafficking and modern slavery at Harvard’s Kennedy school of government. “It’s a low-cost, low-risk business that generates huge profits. To be two or three centuries on from the first efforts to eradicate slavery and still to have it permeating every corner of our economy is a damning indictment of our failure to tackle this highly lucrative criminal industry.”

In London, Elvira managed to make a bold escape, waiting until her “employer” was taking a nap before running to a nearby church for sanctuary. She is still waiting for justice. Much exploitation goes unpunished and unrecognised: data from the US State Department shows that in 2016 there were only 9,071 convictions globally for forced labour and trafficking offences.
To get a picture of what slavery looks like today, we talked to people all over the world who have experienced it first-hand. Their stories, which show how quickly one can become trapped and exploited, give an insight one of the biggest human rights challenges of our time.

Elvira, 50, Philippines

Portrait of former domestic slave Elvira


Modern slavery: the next social care scandal?

Woman looking out of window

Acare home is raided by the Border Agency. Staff are removed as they have no identity documents and are working long hours in poor conditions. The home, it turns out, is being used as a conduit for trafficking women into the UK.

This is a true story, told recently by a social care professional to Gary Craig, emeritus professor of social justice at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation at Hull University. The agency that supplied the workers to the care home, he was told, has not been properly investigated by the authorities.

Craig has heard a number of similar accounts from social care professionals that could indicate foreign nationals working in the sector – in both residential care homes and private residences – might be victims of exploitation, forced labour and modern slavery.

Another example related to a large care home provider. During a routine inspection, concerns were raised about the treatment of care staff who lived on the premises. Some were registered nurses sponsored to come to the UK by the care home as their employer. The care workers felt unable to talk about working practices in the home until they were guaranteed anonymity. The conditions, Craig was informed, amounted to forced labour. In this case, the local authority cut ties with the provider, but the business still operates as a private provider.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that around 21 million people around the world – including 5.5 million children – are in slavery. Modern slavery can include being forced unwillingly into labour, bonded labour where people are compelled to work to pay off debts they may have unwittingly incurred, and human trafficking, where people are recruited and transported within and between countries and then exploited through violence, threats or coercion.

Although the situation of foreign care workers has received nothing like the level of scrutiny of food production, Craig believes the adult social care sector holds significant dangers. The vulnerability of workers employed in settings that may be out of sight is a clear red flag when it comes to the potential for exploitation.

“The risks are about isolation, lack of frequent and effective regulation, and lack of staff training,” he explains. “Levels of exploitation of employees in the social care sector are already very high, and union organisation is very weak.”

There is also intense pressure on care home providers, who are struggling with a recruitment crisis. “You’re managing a care home and desperately need people to work in conditions that are challenging,” Craig suggests. “It’s Friday night, you’re desperate and an agency pops up and says, ‘I can supply labour’.” The temptation to cut corners, he says, is obvious.

“It is low-skilled, low-paid work,” notes Justine Currell, executive director of anti-slavery charity Unseen. This means the barriers to employment are low for vulnerable foreign workers who may find themselves coerced or threatened into handing over their wages to a trafficker. The Modern Slavery Helpline has received calls from individuals worried about the welfare of their care workers, as well as inquiries from concerned social work professionals who sense that something may not be quite right with a set-up they have observed.

The social care regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), says it has not come across any evidence to date that any registered adult social care provider in England is illegally transporting people into the country for the purposes of forced labour.

The office of Shaun Sawyer, chief constable of Devon and Cornwall and the national police lead on modern slavery, also says that current police intelligence is not coming across cases of this kind. “While the team have no doubt that isolated incidents do occur, there is a lack of evidence to suggest that this is one of the primary arenas for exploitation nationally at present,” said a spokesperson.

This, says Craig, is to miss the point. “It’s a very familiar tale: people don’t believe that anything exists until they start looking. And then it comes out.” The police, he says, suffer from a lack of training: it was only last year that forces were required to insert a line on modern slavery into their categorisation of crimes.

Craig believes there is enough evidence of organised exploitation in the sector to justify a formal investigation. When the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) widens later this year to cover exploitation across the whole of the UK labour market, he is urging it to mount an inquiry.

Two years on from the Modern Slavery Act 2015, Craig says: “More is going to come out. In social care, it’s going to be more hidden, and very difficult [to uncover], but that’s what this business is about. The GLA claim they want to run an evidence-led organisation, but if you don’t follow your hunches, you won’t get your evidence.”

It is sometimes difficult for concerned professionals to speak out when they’re unsure about quite what it is that they’re seeing. It’s hard to be sure that something is wrong, and people may not know who to tell.

Andrea Sutcliffe, the CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care, is clear. “Any form of exploitation is an abuse of a person’s basic rights but it may be hidden, which is why it is so important for anyone who is concerned to speak out so it can be stopped.”

It is also, says Sutcliffe, the responsibility of those in charge of running care services to live up to their legal responsibilities and carry out robust recruitment and identity checks on staff. “Should my inspection teams find that this is not happening, we will always take action that holds providers to account.”

Craig advises that anyone with concerns that a worker in an adult social care setting is being subjected to coercion, threat or forced labour should in the first instance consider contacting a charity specialising in these issues.

“If I had anxieties about what was going on in a care home, and whether management was colluding with trafficking in any way, I would talk to a local charity first of all – charities have often taken the lead in bringing this to the public domain – and ask them to investigate. Or possibly even report it to the CQC inspector and ask for anonymity. Then follow it up with an MP if nothing happens. They will have to respond.”

Many people who have been trafficked, Craig warns, will have little trust in the police and may be so frightened that they won’t cooperate. “If you involve the police you need to be sure they are going to take it seriously,” he says. “That would only be my second line of attack. You don’t want a policeman going in who doesn’t know what he’s looking for.”

Gary Craig is asking anyone with concerns about possible instances of modern slavery and trafficking in adult social care to contact him in relation to a research project on forced labour.