What is Modern Slavery?

The Home Office predicts that there may be as many as 13,000 victims in the UK alone. 

Poverty, war and limited opportunities at home are some of the key drivers which can make someone vulnerable to being trafficked and exploited. Victims of slavery can be men, women or children of all ages.

There are several different types of modern slavery, which in the UK, are prohibited under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act. It can include children and adults forced to work in agriculture, domestic work, factories and sweatshops, or girls forced to marry older men.

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

National Reference Mechanism

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support.

The NRM is also the mechanism through which the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) collect data about victims. This information contributes to building a clearer picture about the scope of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK.

Find out how the NRM process works and download the latest statistics here.

Victims of Modern Slavery – frontline staff guidance (Home Office, March 2016)

Human Trafficking
Human trafficking involves men, women and children being recruited, harboured or brought into a situation of exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion and forced to work against their will. It is a form of modern slavery.

It isn’t necessary for someone to have been moved across an international country border for them to be a victim. They can have been moved, harboured and transported within the UK.

When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved: simply bringing them into exploitative conditions constitutes trafficking.

Trafficked people have little choice in what happens to them and often suffer abuse due to violence and threats made against them or their families. In effect, they become commodities owned by traffickers, used for profit.

People can be trafficked for many different forms of exploitation, including:

  • Sexual exploitation - includes the abuse of children for the production of child abuse images/videos. Take a look at our dedicated Child Sexual Exploitation section for further information, including the 'I Didn't Know' campaign.

  • Domestic servitude - involves a victim being forced to work in usually private households, usually performing domestic chores and childcare duties. Their freedom may be restricted and they may work long hours often for little or no pay, often sleeping where they work.
  • Forced labour - victims are forced to work long hours for little or no pay in poor conditions under verbal or physical threats of violence to them or their families. It occurs in various industries including construction, manufacturing, hospitality, food packaging, agriculture, maritime and beauty (nail bars). Often victims are housed together in one dwelling.
  • Criminal exploitation - exploitation of a person to commit a crime, such as pick-pocketing, shop-lifting, cannabis cultivation, drug trafficking and other similar activities that are subject to penalties and imply financial gain for the trafficker. 
  • Organ removal; forced begging; forced benefit fraud; forced marriage and illegal adoption.
#Be A Voice

Could you identify the signs that a person is being trafficked, enslaved or exploited? Would you know how to support a potential victim? 

This local campaign in Essex aims to raise awareness of spotting the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking and reporting to the relevant people. 

Further guidance is on the Essex Police website. Click on the images below to download the posters. Further #BeAVoice campaign materials are also available on the Essex Safeguarding Adults Board website.


Anti-Slavery Commissioner

The introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the passing of legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland to tackle human trafficking and exploitation, also brought in the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

The Commissioner released their first Annual Report in October 2016.

They have also developed a short video with the South East Strategic Partnerships local authority lead. This is aimed at informing local authority staff of the indicators of modern slavery, signs to look out for and the correct course of action. 

You can watch the video below and one aimed at NHS staff on the Anti-Slavery Commissioner's YouTube channel


The Anti Slavery Commissioner website has information on legislation as well as training materials, guidance and information on your duty to notify the Home Office of potential victims:

Duty to Notify the Home Office of Potential Victims of Modern Slavery

Modern slavery victims: referral and assessment forms - refer potential victims to the national referral mechanism

Caring for Trafficked Persons: Guidance for Health Providers

It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to fight modern slavery

Modern Slavery Act (2015 - Chapter 30)