Unseen’s 2023 round-up

Explore Unseen’s 2023 round-up as we mark 15 years fighting modern slavery and exploitation. From an upsurge in Helpline calls to pioneering new business initiatives and supporting survivor-led advocacy, discover how we’re one step closer towards a world without slavery – all thanks to your support.

2023 is an important year for Unseen as we mark 15 years working towards a world without slavery, made possible by our incredible supporters and partners. 

Discover our 2023 round-up, including our safehouse provision, rising demand for the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and how we’ve worked to build survivor empowerment and business resilience against worker exploitation. 

Safehouses and community support 

We tackle modern slavery by addressing both its symptoms and root causes. This involves working closely with survivors to help them rebuild their lives.

In 2023, we supported 246 individuals through our outreach services and an additional 24 individuals found safety in our safehouses, accommodating 14 women and 10 men. 

Together, our Accommodation Support Officers work hand-in-hand with our Caseworkers, ensuring robust support and high accommodation standards. 

This assistance covers a wide spectrum, from navigating the healthcare system, to securing legal advice for asylum claims, providing housing support and helping individuals establish a financial foothold. These services are crucial first steps towards recovery. 

Yet, our support extends beyond these practical aspects. From cooking activities to day trips and an array of wellbeing sessions, we aim to foster positivity and resilience in our safehouses. We bring people together, and one particular activity involved our safehouse residents joining Unseen staff to take part in a bike ride along the Bristol-Bath cycle path. 

Learn more about our specialist survivor services here, along with powerful stories from survivors. 

Unseen's 2023 highlights - Helpline call advisor taking a call
Unseen’s Helpline – a lifeline to freedom 

Our Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline is witnessing an unprecedented surge in demand, following a year of record-breaking call numbers in 2022. 

Throughout the first three quarters of 2023, our dedicated Advisors skilfully managed an approximate 25% increase in calls, webforms, and app submissions, while calls alone rose by nearly 20% compared to the same period the previous year. This underscores the growing reliance on this vital service. 

Our 24/7 Advisors offer support to potential victims, the public, businesses, NGOs, and statutory agencies, such as the police, and NHS professionals.  

They also establish trust with potential victims, informing them of their rights, available support and options. This guidance helps people get out of exploitation. Our Advisors also direct survivors to support services for recovery and refer cases to law enforcement for investigation. 

In one poignant case, our Helpline’s intervention prevented a potential victim’s deportation in the wake of the passing of the Illegal Migration Act. 

Unseen’s Helpline is more than just a support resource; it’s an early warning system with insights that help to shape organisational and government strategies against modern slavery.  

The service’s unique data and insights were highlighted in a BBC File on 4 investigation and a Helpline report, both focusing on exploitation in adult social care. These echoed across media platforms, reaching over 1.5 billion people (1) and significantly amplifying our awareness-raising efforts. 

To combat the evolving face of exploitation in the sector, our Helpline pioneered a new referral route with the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, to tackle illegal practices by employment agencies and ensure compliance with existing legislation. 

More on the Helpline’s work at: www.unseenuk.org/helpline-day-in-the-life 

Unseen 2023 highlights - business awards conference
Building resilient businesses

In the fight against modern slavery and labour abuse, businesses find an ally in Unseen’s Business Hub. Our expert team helps Hub members become more resilient to the risks of modern slavery, supporting them to continuously improve strategies to mitigate potential worker exploitation, not only in their own operations but right through their supply chains. 

Another key tool in these efforts is our Helpline Business Portal, a secure platform providing real-time exploitation data. Members gain immediate alerts on cases related to their business or supply chains, functioning as an invaluable tool to promote supply chain transparency.  

This service is particularly crucial for businesses sharing the same supplier, emphasising the importance of collaboration for ethical practices. 

In 2023, our expert business services continued to grow. We welcomed 13 new businesses to these membership services, including industry giants such as Airbnb and Bupa, bringing the total to 43 members. 

Unseen’s Business Team continued to deliver bespoke services, and we supported a further 20 organisations to develop their approach to modern slavery risks. 

In a celebration of dedication and progress, September marked the inaugural Unseen Business Awards, spotlighting the exceptional strides made by businesses and individuals in tackling modern slavery. Dive into the extraordinary stories here.

Our commitment to addressing modern slavery risks extends to specific industries with the launch of the Finance Hub in 2022 and the Construction Hub in early 2023.  

Recognising the urgency within these high-risk sectors, these Hubs foster collaborative, solution-oriented spaces where industry leaders come together to create change.  

Quarterly gatherings become forums for sharing best practices, dissecting emerging trends gleaned from Helpline data, and navigating upcoming legislation. This year, 15 businesses engaged with the Construction Hub and another 10 with the Finance Hub. 

Unseen 2023 highlights - survivor consultants visits Westminster
Lived experience in action

Survivors of modern slavery possess unique insights that guide the work of Unseen and our partners. 

Our Survivor Consultants Group, composed of 13 individuals with lived experience of modern slavery, work with researchers, businesses and government. This dedicated group regularly interacts with our staff, influencing and guiding our initiatives across the organisation.  

This year, we welcomed three new Consultants and two Lived Experience Coordinators to Unseen. As part of our commitment to their growth, they receive training to prepare them for permanent employment when ready, and notably, two Consultants have since gone on to secure jobs. 

Our Consultants extend their influence to policy development, which includes providing recommendations to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s Modern Slavery Inquiry in Parliament and supporting vital research.  

In one example, Consultants collaborated with our Policy and Research team and the British Institute for International and Comparative Law on a report, exploring the impacts of a lack of legal advice on adult modern slavery survivors.  

The efforts of our Consultants not only contribute to meaningful change but also empower them personally, as expressed by one Consultant: “The research project has given me strength and confidence… everything about the research project has made me feel more powerful.” 

In the new year, our Policy and Research team and Consultants Group will release a report in collaboration with the Universities of Surrey, Bath, and the West of England, exploring the connection between climate change, modern slavery, and supply chains. Watch this space. 

Photo credit: A21
Raising awareness

Our commitment to raising awareness about exploitation has seen significant progress this year. 

We trained over 1,000 individuals across 33 businesses and statutory agencies on recognising and combatting modern slavery, a 30% increase from the previous year, and reached 20,000 employees through our e-learning modules. 

Through a major partnership with NHS England and clinician-led organisation VITA, we supported the development of an e-learning training programme for NHS safeguarding leads, which includes information on our Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline.  

The training focuses on equipping leads with safe, accurate and strategic leadership and decision-making for suspected cases of modern slavery, human trafficking and exploitation, and will enable them to offer appropriate support to frontline healthcare professionals.  

Our awareness efforts are not confined to training. We’ve made our presence known on the streets, with our Helpline featuring on the BT Tower for Anti-Slavery Day and A21’s “Can You See Me?” posters across the London Underground. With the Tube network handling up to five million commuters daily, this highlights yet another valuable partnership. 

To meet evolving needs, we launched a refreshed Unseen app for frontline professionals, businesses and the general public to identify and report modern slavery in confidence. 

Endorsed by anti-slavery experts, trusted by frontline professionals and recommended by senior police officers, the app, available in 27 languages, is a vital tool in our fight against modern slavery and exploitation. 

Unseen highlights - campaigning for change
Campaigning for change

Unseen works alongside NGOs, businesses and government to influence systemic changes. This year’s achievements include:  

  • Pressuring the UK Government to appoint a new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner after a year-long delay. Eleanor Lyons was announced as the new Commissioner in October. 
  • Responding to reports of 200 missing asylum-seeking children, who were at risk of trafficking and County Lines exploitation, we re-launched an awareness campaign, encouraging those with or working with children to take action. 
  • Collaborating with anti-slavery organisations, we voiced our concerns about the Illegal Migration Act’s impact on victims and survivors of modern slavery arriving via small boats to the UK, reflected in a joint letter in the Times.  
  • Advocating for improved business human rights laws, we pushed for strict supply chain audits and accountability under the proposed Modern Slavery Bill.  
  • As part of the Coalition to Stop Slavery, we joined 17 organisations in urging the UK Government for stricter measures against traffickers 
  • In collaboration with Be Slavery Free, we presented the second annual Chocolate Scorecard, promoting ethical business and consumer choices in the chocolate industry. A significant milestone was the engagement of Starbucks in the campaign, marking a shift from their previous stance. International coverage in publications like The Grocer, The Daily Mail, and The Conversation also brought this human rights cause to a global audience, fostering awareness among millions worldwide. 
  • Our Ukrainians Welcome campaign, produced with BBD Perfect Storm, garnered multiple awards, including the Lions Award from the prestigious Cannes advertising festival. 
unseen 2023 highlights - training
15 years fighting slavery

This year, Unseen marked its 15th year working towards a world without slavery.   

In this time, Unseen has achieved many successes, including the development of our men’s and women’s safehouses, the launch of the UK Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, the introduction of our Business Services Team, as well as our new Research and Policy department and Survivor Consultants Group, used to inform government policy.   

Find out more about our history here.

A big thank you 

A heartfelt thank you to all our supporters and partners who supported us this year.

Help us continue our fight to end all forms of modern slavery in 2024. Check out all the ways you can support us below.    

(1) 1 This figure only accounts for the months of July and October 2023, when the respective investigation and care sector report was published and garnered the greatest attention. This figure is for websites and publications only and does not include broadcast coverage.  

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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.