Modern slavery is more common in the UK than you think - here’s how to spot it

Modern slavery in the UK is believed to be more common than previously estimated. (Photo: Shutterstock)Modern slavery in the UK is believed to be more common than previously estimated. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Modern slavery in the UK is believed to be more common than previously estimated. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The number of modern slavery victims in the UK is feared to be much higher than official estimates, claims a new report.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and Justice and Care has estimated that the nation is home to at least 100,000 victims of modern slavery, outflanking a 2017 government estimate of 10,000 victims.

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The authors of the report also fear that the coronavirus pandemic could worsen the situation, due to an increase in poverty, unemployment and vulnerability - all factors that make a victim easier to target.

Modern slavery takes lots of different forms, from sexual slavery to hard labour and domestic servitude, and is often invisible to people not attuned to telltale signs.

Where does slavery happen in the UK?

Modern slavery is unfortunately endemic in every part of the UK, and isn’t always obvious to a casual observer.

Modern slaves can be found doing forced labour in all kinds of places across society, from shops to car washes, nail bars and farms.

What are the signs that someone is being enslaved?

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According to Anti Slavery International, there are several signs of slavery you can look out for. These are:

  • Someone who does not have any personal identification on them
  • Someone who appears to be under the control of another, and is reluctant to interact with others
  • Someone with very few personal belongings, wearing the same clothes every day or wearing clothes that don’t suit the work they’re doing
  • Someone who appears unable to move around freely
  • Someone who appears withdrawn, frightened or is showing signs of physical or psychological abuse
  • Someone who is reluctant to talk to authorities or strangers
  • Someone who is dropped off and collected for work in a very similar way each day, especially if picked up or dropped off at unusual times of day

Of course, seeing just one of these signs is not always indicative of slavery, but if you are concerned, you should always report it.

What do I do if I suspect I’ve encountered a victim or perpetrator?

If you suspect someone is being enslaved, do not confront either the victim or the suspected perpetrator yourself - this could cause further harm to the victim.

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Instead, you need to inform the relevant authorities or organisations working in the field

In the UK, you have several options for reporting suspected slavery:

  • Get in touch with the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or fill out their online form
  • Contact Crimestoppers at 0800 555 111
  • Get in touch with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority if you’re reporting concerns about the mistreatment of workers. You can call them at 0800 432 0804 or email [email protected]
  • Contact the police
  • Contact specialist anti-slavery organisations like Anti-Slavery International