Modern slavery is an often unseen, or unrecognised, serious crime happening across the UK in which victims are exploited for someone else’s gain.

Modern slavery is an umbrella term encompassing slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking.

Victims of modern slavery are unable to leave their situation of exploitation, and controlled by threats, punishment, violence, coercion, and deceptionSlavery violates human rights, denying people of their right to life, freedom, and security.

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 have restrictions placed on their freedom

Modern slavery can happen ANYWHERE – cities, towns, villages, rural areas. It is present in every single area of the UK and is on the increase.

There is no typical victim of slavery. Modern slavery can affect ANYONE in society. Victims can be men, women and children of all ages and cut across the population, but it is normally more prevalent amongst the most vulnerable, minority or socially excluded groups.

Perpetrators may be part of a large criminal organisation, a smaller operation, or lone offenders or families. Usually they are highly organised and adept at disguising their activities. They are often in significant positions of power over their victims but can make it appear that they are just accompanying or supporting them, rather than keeping them enslaved.

Prevalence of modern slavery

There were 8,730 modern slavery offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021, an increase of 5% from the previous year.

The real number of victims in the UK could be many times higher - the Global Slavery Index believes there are at least 136,000 victims living in slavery in the UK.

Anti-slavery charity Unseen UK operates a Helpline. In 2020,

  • The Helpline received 6,052 calls. This was 15% down on 2019, presumed to be as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  
  • 3,481 of these were judged to be potential victims of modern slavery, from 80 different nationalities.
  • The highest proportion of reports concerned labour exploitation, followed by sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation and domestic servitude.

Victims in the UK come from 85 nationalities. Most of the calls to the helpline came from Romanian and Chinese Mandarin speakers.

Those we know about are just the tip of the iceberg - many victims never come forward to the authorities and continue to live miserable lives with no freedom or dignity.