Modern slavery explained

What is modern slavery? Slavery is an umbrella term for activities involved when one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service.

Millions of people around the world are trapped in modern slavery. It is a crime happening in our communities, takeaways, hotels, car washes, nail bars and private homes. And, as Unseen Director Kate Garbers explains in this powerful film, modern slaves could be working for you.

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 his/her freedom

Definition of modern slavery

The following definitions are encompassed within the term 'modern slavery' for the purposes of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

These are:

  • 'slavery' is where ownership is exercised over a person
  • 'servitude' involves the obligation to provide services imposed by coercion
  • 'forced or compulsory labour' involves work or service extracted from any person under the menace of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself voluntarily
  • 'human trafficking' concerns arranging or facilitating the travel of another with a view to exploiting them.

The Centre for Social Justice Report (2013) further states that the term 'modern slavery' includes the definitions below:

Human trafficking

  1. Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons.
  2. By means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person; (where a child is involved, the above means are irrelevant).
  3. For the purposes of exploitation, which includes (but is not exhaustive):
    • Prostitution
    • Other sexual exploitation
    • Forced labour
    • Slavery (or similar)
    • Servitude etc.
    • Removal of organs


The status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised (129 Convention; approved in defining Art 4 ECHR: Siladin v France (ECHR, 2005).


An obligation to provide one’s services that is imposed by the use of coercion, and is to be linked with the concept of ‘slavery’ described above (Siladin v France, ECHR (2005).

Forced labour

All work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.

Difference between labour abuse and labour exploitation

Labour abuse is at the lower end of the spectrum but can be equally traumatising for the individual concerned. Issues such as non-payment of minimum wage, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), few or no breaks, belittling of workers and long hours are all signs of labour abuse.

Forced labour and labour exploitation are at the higher end of the spectrum and defined as modern slavery. They involve the control, force or coercion of an individual to perform work.

This is serious and high harm, and signs include restrictions on movement, debt-bondage, removal of identity documents, psychological manipulation and threats of, or actual violence.

Below are links to national and international definitions of slavery and trafficking:
Modern Slavery Act
Palermo Protocal
EU Directive

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