Slavery not just a matter for the history books

Slavery not just a matter for the history books

The public conversation over Britain’s colonial past and our links to the slave trade has dominated headlines for much of the summer.

The removal – or not – of statues of people who had links to slavery, or profited from it, has been an ongoing theme in towns and cities across the country.

But the issue of slavery is not just a matter for historians or philosophical debate.

Modern day slavery is, unfortunately, all too common and continuing to exploit and destroy lives on a huge scale.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics make grim reading on the subject. The ONS data, released in March this year, shows that:

  • the Modern Slavery Helpline received a 68% increase in calls and submissions in the year ending December 2018, compared with the previous year
  • there were 5,144 modern slavery offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019, an increase of 51% from the previous year
  • the number of potential victims referred through the UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM) increased by 36% to 6,985 in the year ending December 2018

The way in which this slavery manifests itself are wide and varied. Victims can be trafficked for sexual exploitation, or they can forced to work against their will.  They can be bullied, abused or assaulted if they refuse to comply – and they can be both UK nationals and citizens from other countries.


And the nature of the crime makes it both difficult to spot and hard to investigate.  Victims are often too scared to come forward – or cannot afford to because their financial livelihoods depend on the work they are being forced to carry out.


Common signs of modern slavery include:

Compulsory forced overtime: If workers are being forced to work extra hours on threat of a penalty – either financial or physical – this is effectively forced labour

Migrant workers paying to get a job:  Migrant workers can often find themselves paying high fees to recruitment agencies or their employers for work – and then feel trapped in the job because they cannot afford to leave it. This bonded labour is often made worse by exploitation at the workplace.

Employees being forced to hand over personal documents: If an employee has been forced to hand over their passport as part of their employment and feels they cannot leave their job as a result, this amounts to forced labour. Gang leaders will frequently use the possession of personal documents to prevent workers from leaving.

How workers are paid: One sign which should raise alarm bells is the manner of payment to staff. Is it regular, on time and transparent? Do staff get clear wage slips showing what they have earned and what has been deducted? And are they paid in legal tender? Companies involved in slave labour often use vouchers or in-kind payments as a way of controlling their workers.

How much independence are workers allowed: If staff are not permitted to travel on their own, are picked up and dropped off every day, have few possessions, wear the same clothes every day and are not allowed to speak to others, there are clear grounds for suspicion.

Individuals may also appear to be  fearful or anxious,   withdrawn, nervous of interaction, poorly fed and seem reluctant to seek help despite appearing unwell or malnourished. All are signs that something is not right.

If you have any suspicions that a company you work for or supply is involved in modern day slavery you must raise it at once. Useful numbers include:

And if you need our expert help with any of the issues surrounding modern day slavery, just contact us here:

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