How will Brexit affect modern slavery? Although one of the intentions of the UK leaving the EU was to “take back our borders and control immigration”, the issues of human trafficking and modern slavery will still remain. Here are five things you need to know about modern slavery after Brexit.

It is a misconception that all victims of trafficking and modern slavery are migrants.

Many of the vulnerable people we deal with at Unseen are UK citizens, and many of those who are not from the UK were originally here legitimately.

It is also a misconception that our pre-Brexit open borders allowed migrants to be trafficked and exploited easily.

In fact, post-Brexit, the UK no longer has real-time access to European security systems, meaning there will be a downgrading of UK Border Force’s capability to intercept traffickers.


Our country’s hostile immigration environment means the authorities are failing to identify some victims of modern slavery. Their focus is on a person’s right to be in the UK rather than spotting the signs of exploitation.

This situation could get worse in a post-Brexit climate with increased restrictions on movement from the EU.

It could also make it easier for traffickers to discourage victims from seeking help. A potential victim does not want to risk being deported.

Meanwhile, those with no status or who remain in the UK on expired visas are also more vulnerable to exploitation because they have nowhere to turn when things don’t go to plan.


Victims of modern slavery who are identified in the UK no longer have the right to remain upon leaving the support of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM – the Government’s system for supporting victims of modern slavery).

This means they are more susceptible to re-trafficking and re-exploitation because they are likely to be sent back to where they were trafficked or exploited in the first place, without any form of risk assessment.

There is a risk that more survivors go underground to avoid being sent back to their home country. This makes them an ideal candidate for exploitation as exploiters will target them knowing they cannot raise the flag with authorities for fear of deportation.


The ending of freedom of movement for EU citizens will have a direct impact on sectors vulnerable to exploitation.

This is especially true in many factories, distribution centres, farms, hospitality venues, and the food and apparel sectors, which rely on low-paid, low-skilled labour from migrant workers and will still have to source staff from somewhere.

As the pressure on businesses increases to find alternative low-skilled labour, so does the risk of UK workers being exploited: companies might fail to apply due diligence when the pressure to meet high demand ramps up.


The timing of us leaving the European Union could not be worse for potential victims of modern slavery.

Our experience shows that the risk of exploitation increases in times of significant economic downturn – like the current Covid-induced slump.

UK workers are already facing an uncertain future with job losses and health concerns brought on by the pandemic. Such a climate only makes them more vulnerable.

As operators of the UK wide Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline, Unseen is working at the coal face, receiving reports about slavery and exploitation on a daily basis.

Through the data we gather, we will monitor the impact of Brexit over time, and try to spot any trends to better understand what is happening.

We will then share relevant information across other organisations and agencies we work with. And we’ll continue working with our partner businesses on identifying issues in their supply chains and operations.

By doing this, and with the continued backing of our supporters, we can help prevent slavery and exploitation from occurring in the first place.

Find out how we work with businesses to prevent modern slavery.

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Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.