Calls to modern slavery helpline rise for fourth year running

Calls to the UK's Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline are at a record high, marking the fourth consecutive year of increases. Read Unseen’s Helpline Annual Assessment for 2023.
Calls to the modern slavery helpline are at a record high in 2023. Picture is a black women wearing a care worker uniform, looking tired. Hand raised to her head.

Unseen’s Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline saw a record number of calls in 2023, marking an increase for the fourth consecutive year. This surge coincides with a 30% increase in potential victims identified within the UK adult social care sector.  

These figures are part of the Helpline’s latest 2023 Annual Assessment, one of the most detailed reports on the nature of modern slavery in the UK. 

Justine Carter, Director of Unseen and co-author of the report, says: “Modern slavery and exploitation are heinous crimes that have no place in a modern, progressive UK that cares about human rights.  

“It is encouraging that we are continuing to see rising numbers of calls and contacts to the Helpline, indicating that we are succeeding in raising awareness of the issue and mobilising more people to act.” 

A breakdown of the latest modern slavery trends can be found in our executive summary below. 

Latest modern slavery insights

Key findings from the Helpline’s 2023 figures include: 

  • Calls to the Helpline and contacts via the service’s web form and app rose by more than 19%, up from 9,779 in 2022 to 11,700 in 2023. 
  • 918 potential victims of modern slavery indicated in the care sector, up from 708 in 2022 (a 30% rise). 
  • An 11% increase in labour abuse cases, up from 464 in 2022 to 516 in 2023. 
  • A 21% increase in potential victims of criminal exploitation, up from 317 in 2022 to 385 in 2023. 
  • A 5% increase in cases involving minors and a 3% increase in minor potential victims (340 minors across 223 modern slavery cases, up from 331 potential victims across 213 cases in 2022). 10% of modern slavery cases raised by the Helpline in 2023 involved minors. 
  • Four cases of organ harvesting were reported, following the first such case in 2022. 
  • Forced surrogacy was reported for the first time, with a total of three potential victims indicated. 
  • Situations of forced scamming have doubled, from 11 potential victims in two cases in 2022 to 41 potential victims across four cases in 2023. 
  • Labour exploitation remains the most prevalent exploitation type, followed by sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, and domestic servitude. This has remained consistent since the Helpline was founded in 2016. 
Black care worker standing against the wall, looking dishevelled.
India tops the list for the first time

The Helpline data exposes the global reach of modern slavery. In 2023, potential victims came from 106 countries, up from 99 the previous year. The most common nationalities reported were Indian, Romanian, Albanian, Vietnamese, and Chinese. 

India became the most prevalent potential victim nationality for the first time, predominantly due to labour exploitation within the care sector. This shift marks a change from past years, where Romanian nationals had been the most common nationality reported every year since the Helpline was founded in 2016.  

Decline in number of potential victims and modern slavery cases

The rise in calls and contacts to the Helpline comes despite an overall fall in the number of potential victims and modern slavery cases reported. 

In 2023: 

  • The number of potential victims indicated at the Helpline was 5,876, down 10% on 2022 (6,516). 
  • The number of modern slavery cases raised was 2,185, down 16% on 2022 (2,588). 

Justine Carter says: “We remain concerned that the ever-increasing hostile environment in the UK towards migrants and foreign workers means that fewer people feel able to raise concerns and seek the help and support that they desperately need. 

“More needs to be done to encourage victims to come forward and to properly resource efforts to stamp out modern slavery and exploitation for good.” 

Want a deeper dive into the Helpline data and trends? Watch our webinar

Gain a deeper understanding of the 2023 Helpline data and its insights into modern slavery trends. Our webinar explores:

  • A detailed breakdown of call volumes and types of contacts received by the Helpline.
  • The number of potential victims identified, and the types of exploitation reported.
  • Emerging trends in modern slavery across the UK.
  • The broader partnership work undertaken by the Helpline in collaboration with law enforcement, NGOs, and other stakeholders.
About the annual assessment

Modern slavery data from the 2023 Helpline Annual Assessment includes figures for every UK nation and region.  

These findings are used by charities, the police, local and national governments and businesses to inform policy and wider anti-slavery strategies. 

The Annual Assessment also covers a range of sectors including hospitality, construction, retail, manufacturing and agriculture.

The full report for the 2023 Annual Assessment will be published by Friday 3 May 2024. For queries on the report, please email [email protected]

About the Helpline

The Helpline is a free, independent and confidential service staffed by trained advisers and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

As well as supporting victims themselves, the Helpline advises police officers, NHS workers, local government employees, and businesses about what to do if they suspect an instance of modern slavery.  

The Helpline also encourages members of the public to get in touch if they are worried about anything they’ve seen.    

If you need or are concerned about anything you’ve seen, call the Helpline, any time of day or night, on 08000 121 700.  

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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.