In a recent investigation by the BBC, it was revealed that the cases of modern slavery have doubled in the last year and around 109 potential victims were discovered. This information was obtained by the BBC with the help of a government-approved anti-slavery helpline which is run by a charity called Unseen.
Modern slavery in the UK can include human trafficking and forcing people into illegal activities. Additionally, forcing people into labour in various industries like nail bars, car washes etc can also be considered modern slavery offences. According to the UK government, between January and March 2023, over 4K potential victims of modern-day slavery were referred to the Home Office. Additionally, the Home Office also received reports of 1,420 adult potential victims and this has been the highest number since 2015.
BBC’s Investigation on Modern Slavery in the UK
The BBC obtained reports from The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority that revealed that they were investigating 17 care sectors and had about 300 pieces of intelligence to review. Insight from Unseen tells us that modern slavery has become even more rampant since the UK entered into the post-Brexit era where there are jobs to be filled.
One woman shared her story with the BBC and spoke up about the “work” she was offered as a care assistant. Unfortunately, it did not go well for her as she wasn’t offered everything she was promised. She had to live separately from her children and her mother, and she even had to walk to her appointments.
On receiving her payslip, her wages worked out to less than £2 an hour and when she complained, she was threatened with getting fired and having her visa cancelled. At present, the care company she was working for is being investigated by the government.
Children Are Most Vulnerable to Exploitation
Various factors contribute to this vulnerability, including poverty, limited access to resources, lack of education, cultural and language barriers, age (especially being under 18), recent migration to a new area or country, homelessness, and struggles with addiction.
Apart from these factors, certain industries are more prone to labour exploitation than others. For instance, in the UK, the car wash industry poses a higher risk due to its long working hours and low wages. Similarly, nail bar workers may face health risks from exposure to hazardous materials. Moreover, domestic workers, like nannies or cleaners, may encounter abuse of power as some employers restrict their freedom and isolate them from others.
Children and care leavers (people who have spent time in care; usually between 16-25) seem to be the most vulnerable to exploitation and are seen as potential victims. According to a “preventing exploitation” toolkit, children and care leavers are the most at risk since they may have been subject to trauma or abuse, making them easier targets of grooming.
Reporting Modern Slavery
While exact figures vary, the International Labour Organization approximates that about 40 million people are currently trapped in various forms of modern slavery. Shockingly, over 70% of those affected are women and children.
These statistics are deeply concerning and unacceptable. Individuals are being treated as commodities, forced into labour, and deprived of basic human rights on a daily basis. Many of them are vulnerable due to poverty or conflict, which only worsens their enslavement. Often, victims are unaware of their dire circumstances until it’s too late, leaving them with limited options for escape or freedom.
Thankfully, there are several ways to combat modern slavery. First and foremost, it’s crucial to remain vigilant for any signs of exploitation or unfair labour practices in your surroundings. If you suspect illegal or unethical activities in the workplace or community, report them immediately to the relevant authorities. Organizations like Unseen provide support to victims of modern slavery, helping them break free from their situations.
It’s also important to recognize the warning signs of modern slavery, such as sudden changes in behaviour or financial situation, lack of control over wages or working hours, and physical appearance. The UK government has introduced an online tool to help identify cases of human trafficking and exploitation. The Modern Slavery Helpline offers confidential advice and support services for victims.
Furthermore, raising awareness about workers’ rights is essential. Educating people on how to identify exploitation and how to report it can empower victims of modern slavery, giving them the courage to speak up and seek assistance. Additionally, if you know someone who is a victim of modern slavery, you can directly refer them to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for help and protection.