We have started a new project: supporting Eastern European Victims of Modern Slavery

Supporting victims of modern slavery 

Modern slavery is an umbrella term that encompasses the offences of human trafficking and slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour. Modern slavery is usually a hidden crime, of indeterminate duration. The signs are not always visible and, even when they are, people are unable or afraid to report it.

The latest available estimate of the prevalence of modern slavery in the UK was produced by the Home Office in 2014 and it suggested that in 2013 there were 10,000 to 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK.

In the report, the Home Office establishes that there has been a consistent and sustained increase in the number of potential victims of modern slavery identified in the UK since 2009 – likely due to the increased priority of tackling modern slavery and improved awareness of this crime. In 2017, 5,145 potential victims were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s framework for referring and supporting victims. This was a 35% increase compared to the previous year (National Crime Agency, 2018).


According to a report by  GLAA in 2016, the scale of modern slavery is increasing across the UK, though it remains difficult to accurately assess due to the hidden nature of the threat.

In 2016, 3.805 potential victims of all exploitation types were referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in the UK and 782 potential adult victims were referred to the duty to notify provision in England and Wales. In the twelve months up until March 2017, police in England and Wales recorded 2,255 modern slavery offences, with 60 recorded by Police Scotland and 35 by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. In 2017, 5,145 potential victims of modern slavery were submitted to the NRM, a 35% increase compared with 2016.

The report notes that these figures are far lower than the 13,000 estimate from the Home Office (which in itself has been described as being “far too modest” by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner), indicating that a significant proportion of potential victims remain vulnerable.

Eastern Europeans and modern slavery

According to the same report by GLAA,  the top ten countries of origin of NRM potential victims between 2015 and 2017 were Vietnam, Albania, the UK, Romania, Poland, Sudan, China, India, Eritrea and Slovakia.

Exploitation in the workplace is very common in Eastern European communities and is the result of people find it very difficult to access to the open British labour market due to lack of language skills, or unfamiliarity with recruitment practices and processes. Moreover, in many cases this exploitation takes place within business run by members of their communities, therefore making it even more difficult to break the cycle.

Furthermore, the situation of vulnerable workers is very dynamic and can escalate if a worker is not able to enforce his or her rights or does not know how to do it. Consequently, what starts as labour exploitation may quickly develop into modern slavery.

As a result many Eastern Europeans fall victims to traffickers whilst still in their home countries. People are promised jobs and often even pay their trafficker to get to the UK.

There are a few industries identified by the GLAA as being more at risk of modern slavery: agriculture, nail bars, catering/hotels, car washes, warehouses/distribution, food processing, shellfish gathering, manufacturing, recycling/waste disposal, cleaning and construction.

Some Eastern European workers in the farming sector are being exploited every day in the UK. Victims of this crime are often eastern European men and women who were promised a job by traffickers, or they could be on the fringes of society, homeless or destitute. Through threats, violence, coercion or forced drug and alcohol dependency, they’re enslaved, working for little or no money, living in squalid conditions having had their identity documents taken from them. Often, after arrival, gang leaders seize documents, opening multiple bank and utility accounts in their names – but refuse to hand over access to the accounts or bank cards. Hours are long and the work is gruelling and dangerous. Workers are abused and are controlled by threats of harm to their families at home.

Labour-intensive sectors such as construction, where temporary and irregular work are common, are high-risk sectors for forced labour. With new homes, offices and buildings being constructed or upgraded in great quantity, labour exploitation is the second most common type of modern slavery, after sexual exploitation. The scale of the operations is sometimes very big, especially in remote parts of the country. 

Things like the uncertainty regarding people’s rights to live and work in the UK and the new work visas for seasonal workers that the government is proposing to introduce after the UK leaves the EU, are going to put even more vulnerable Eastern Europeans at risk of modern slavery.  Temporary migrant workers are at risk of modern slavery because their visas are tied to a specific employer. This means anyone attempting to escape an exploitative situation could face deportation. To prevent this, the government will need to be much more involved in preventing and fighting modern slavery, after Brexit.

GLAA is also concenrned about Brexit.The report notes: “Dependent upon entry and working restrictions, there may be an increase in illegal working, misrepresentation and / or false and fraudulent documents being used, for example. Companies in the construction sector have reported difficulties in recruiting staff, likely due to a decrease in the migrant workforce after the UK’s independence referendum”

We are proud to announce that we started a new project supporting Victims of Modern Slavery.

Two modern slavery victims advocates will deliver an innovative modern slavery victim support project funded by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. This project is a novel take on supporting victims of modern slavery / human trafficking that places the victim at the heart of activities.

We will work in partnership with the Aire Centre and Focus on Labour Exploitation

We will work with Eastern European Victims of modern slavery, human trafficking and exploitation at work, offering specialised and personalised support with:

+ report the crime to the police

+ liaise with the National Referral Mechanism

+ apply for benefits

+ finding a proper job

+ contact friends and families

+ support with their rights in the UK

+ free English classes

For referrals (Notification of Potential Victim of Modern Slavery – referral form)  or for more information, please contact slavery@eerc.org.uk .