What is modern slavery?
Modern slavery is when one person possesses or controls another person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, profit, transfer or disposal.
- Domestic Servitude
Employees working in private homes are forced or coerced into serving and/or fraudulently convinced that they have no option to leave.
- Sex Trafficking
Women, men or children that are forced into the commercial sex industry and held against their will by force, fraud or coercion.
- Forced Labour
Human beings are forced to work under the threat of violence and for no pay. These slaves are treated as property and exploited to create a product for commercial sale.
- Bonded Labour
Individuals that are compelled to work in order to repay a debt and unable to leave until the debt is repaid. It is the most common form of enslavement in the world.
- Child Labour
Any enslavement — whether forced labour, domestic servitude, bonded labour or sex trafficking — of a child.
- Forced Marriage
Women and children who are forced to marry another without their consent or against their will.
While the Modern Slavery Act consolidated and improved our modern laws on trafficking and slavery, it didn’t create any jurisdiction for the crimes of slavery or forced labour that are committed by UK nationals or companies overseas.
If a British person or company holds a person in slavery or forced labour abroad – such as on construction sites in the Gulf states or in the fishing industry – they can do so with impunity, unless their behaviour is criminalised in that state.
Yet any profits obtained from the slavery and extreme exploitation of workers can filter home to the UK Company, crime-free.
The fact that we need to change a law that only recently came into force is not unusual or unprecedented. If we look back in history we see that all of our slavery-related legislation has had an incremental approach. There were dozens of pieces of English legislation that finally enabled the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in all of its form 200 years ago.
It is only through seeing the law in action that we recognise where the gaps lie. The UK criminal offence of holding a person in slavery or requiring a person to perform forced labour was only passed in 2009, when the legislation gap was exposed by one of my cases, and it soon became the most successful modern criminal legislation geared towards prosecuting and convicting those who enslave.
Slavery did not end with abolition in the 19th century. The practice still continues today in one form or another in every country in the world. From women forced into prostitution, children and adults forced to work in agriculture, domestic work, or factories and sweatshops producing goods for global supply chains, entire families forced to work for nothing to pay off generational debts; or girls forced to marry older men, the illegal practice still blights contemporary world. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) around 21 million men, women and children around the world are in a form of slavery. There are many different characteristics that distinguish slavery from other human rights violations, however only one needs to be present for slavery to exist. Someone is in slavery if they are:
- Forced to work – through mental or physical threat;
- Owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse;
- Dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’;
- Physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.
Modern Slavery is an international crime, affecting an estimated 29.8 million slaves around the world**. It is a global problem that transcends age, gender and ethnicities, including here in the UK and it’s important that we bring this hidden crime into the open.
It can include victims that have been brought from overseas and vulnerable people in the UK, being forced to illegally work against their will in many different sectors, including brothels, cannabis farms, nail bars and agriculture.
More than 70% of migrants travelling overland through north Africa to Europe have become victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking and exploitation along the way, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The IOM’s surveys of migrants arriving in Europe by boat reveal that nearly three-quarters of those interviewed show strong indicators of having been trafficked or exploited for profit by criminals at some point on their journey.
Nearly half of all those questioned (49%) reported being held in a location against their will, often for ransom. The majority of these cases occurred in Libya.
By Chelsea Martin and Colton Pridgeon