Forced Labour in the UK

Forced Labour Remains Top Exploitation Type Identified by Modern Slavery Helpline

In 2018, more than 7,400 reports were made to our Modern Slavery Helpline by concerned members of the public, businesses and victims themselves. These reports indicated more than 7,100 potential victims, trapped in unimaginable situations of forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and forced criminality here in the UK.

Since the opening of the Helpline in 2016, forced labour has remained the most common exploitation type, with 5,362 potential victims identified in 2018. Male victims made up over half of this total. Romania was the top known nationality of victims, followed by Vietnam, Bulgaria, Poland, China and England.

Recruitment and Control

Job offers in seemingly legitimate businesses remain the main method of recruitment, with opportunities advertised on the internet or to vulnerable people on the street or in shelters.

Unsuspecting victims take up these jobs, thinking they have found a well-paid opportunity to support themselves and their family. Once a victim is under an exploiter’s control, manipulation, threats and violence prevent a victim from leaving. Financial control was the top identified control method, followed by isolation, monitoring, emotional abuse, threats and withholding or destroying a victim’s documents, such as their passport.

Labour Exploitation by Sector

Forced labour has been identified in a huge range of sectors. Due to an increase in the public’s awareness of exploitation in car washes, this was the most common reported sector, followed by beauty/spa (nail bars), construction, hospitality, agriculture and factories. Victims have also been identified in sectors including care, transportation/logistics and cleaning.

Emerging Trends

There has been a rise in calls relating to modern slavery in religious sites, recycling and waste facilities and the transportation sector. Car washes and nail bars remain the most common sectors identified by the Helpline. This could be a result of national campaigns raising awareness in these sectors but could also be because victims in these industries are in customer facing roles, and therefore more likely to be reported by the public. It is incredibly important that employees in all sectors, especially those that are not customer facing, are aware of the signs of slavery so they can report any concerns.

Non-Modern Slavery Calls

There were over 800 calls made to the Helpline that didn’t involve modern slavery but did indicate labour abuse. In labour abuse cases, there are indicators such as being paid below the national minimum wage, inadequate protective equipment and harassment and intimidation. However, they weren’t modern slavery cases, as victims had the freedom to leave.

From someone external to the situation, it may not be clear whether it’s a modern slavery incident or labour abuse, so we are really pleased that the Helpline is seen as a trusted resource to report anything that may be suspicious. In cases involving labour abuse, referrals were made to the Gang Masters and Labour Abuse Authority, HMRC or another relevant agency.

For more information, see the full Annual Assessment and the Executive Summary