Slavery is illegal but it is still happening right under our noses, and some groups are particularly vulnerable to being exploited. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 has updated the definitions of slavery and places a legal requirement on large employers to publish a statement on how they are getting rid of slavery from their supply chains.
“You can choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know”
William Wilberforce, 1791
“Modern slavery is happening in Devon whether it is in our fields, factories, towns, homes or economic supply chains”
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, Devon and Cornwall Police 2015
In September 2020, Devon County Council published its Modern Slavery Statement.
What is modern slavery?
Modern slavery is where someone is held in domestic servitude (for example, a servant in a home) and/or forced to work for little or no pay. It includes human trafficking (moving people from one place to another to be exploited) and sexual exploitation (selling people for sex or pornography).
People are often tricked into forced labour or servitude. For example, promises are made for a better life, but when they get to the meeting place of their new job their passport, ID and phone are seized and they are forced to work long hours for little or no pay. A victim might work for some time with the promise of being paid, but then never receive their money.
A victim of modern slavery will have their movements controlled or restricted by another. It doesn’t always mean they are imprisoned or in chains. The control can often be emotional (for example, threats made to hurt the victim or the victim’s family) or financial (pay back a debt). Sometimes the debt is between families and a child or adult is ‘sold’ to another family to do work and pay off the debt.
A situation can still be modern slavery if a person has given consent (agreed to do the work). This is because people can feel pressurised into doing the work and staying with their exploiter. They may be vulnerable and unable to challenge (children, mentally ill or with a learning disability) or frightened what might happen to them or their family if they leave. A person committing modern slavery might use force, threats or deception (tricks) to keep that person.
Sometimes a victim of modern slavery may feel grateful for being provided with some food and accommodation if they are destitute. That doesn’t make it right or legal – they are still being exploited.
In the UK it is estimated that around 13,000 people are enslaved. It is more likely to be found in industries where there is high demand and low pay (manual work). You may be surprised to know that modern slavery has been found in the following work:
- farms – including fruit, veg and flower picking
- HGV drivers
- care homes
- nail bars
- car washes
- charity bag collection
- domestic servants
- tarmacking and paving
- restaurants and takeaways
- cannabis farms
Some people are more vulnerable to becoming victims of Modern slavery:
- young people
- women and girls (around 70%)
- homeless people
- people with little or no english, including asylum seekers and refugees
- people with learning disabilities
- people with mental health problems
Some signs of modern slavery
- A person or people who lack independence and seem to have their communication and movement controlled by another. That person may pretend to be an interpreter.
- A person or groups of people being taken to and from a place, for example in a van.
- A person or people working with ill health, exhaustion or injury. Poor physical appearance.
- A person or people who are isolated from the rest of the community.
- A person or people with a lack of personal possessions.
- Poor living accommodation. This can include caravans, sheds, tents, outbuildings, shipping containers.
- A person is fearful, uncomfortable and unhappy. They may also be pretending to be OK.
They may present with some or all of these signs.
Modern slavery can happen in any society. Victims and perpetrators can be UK nationals or people from the EU and beyond. Currently victims have mainly been identified from the UK, Poland, Romania, Albania, Nigeria and Vietnam. People may be trafficked into the UK, within the UK, or out of the UK (including UK nationals).
Care should be taken not to assume that a particular line of business or national/ethnic origin means that slavery is taking place. For example, a nail bar operated by Vietnamese women could be perfectly legitimate. What’s important is to recognise the ‘signs of modern slavery’ described above and that modern slavery is where a person or group of people are forced to work for little or no pay.
Likewise, whilst there have been some high profile cases of modern slavery carried out by a small number of Traveller families, it is not more common in Traveller communities. A Traveller family may have a workman living with their group in a separate caravan (which would have been purchased by the family for the workman, but may not be of the same high quality as the main family units). Although it may raise questions, this shouldn’t be confused with domestic servitude or other forms of modern slavery: workmen who are treated fairly and responsibly, paid appropriately and are free to leave any time are not being exploited or enslaved.
Create your own awareness raising event…
Between February and May 2016, Devon County Council’s Equality Officer has run a series of hour long film screenings on modern slavery. This included showing two DVDs produced by the organisation Unchosen (What is Modern Slavery? and What is Sexual Exploitation?), followed by a Powerpoint video with some key facts and statistics about slavery in Devon, which is available on YouTube:
Download the Modern Day Slavery Booklet.
Film is a very powerful and simple way of getting the message across. You don’t have to be an expert in modern slavery to run your own awareness raising event, all you need is an audience and some audio/visual equipment for playing DVDs and internet video.
County Council staff and Members may borrow the DVD pack from the Corporate Equality Officer (request by email via the equality mailbox).
Listed below are some key websites and organisations involved in ending slavery and trafficking:
- Modern Slavery (Home Office official website on Modern Slavery)
- Anti-Slavery Partnerships (South West)
- Devon and Cornwall Police – Information on Modern Slavery
- Modern Slavery – Peninsular Overview (Report of Devon and Cornwall Police Strategic Analysis Team)
- Purple Teardrop Campaign
- Stop the Traffik
Personal safety tips
Be cautious when accepting a job from someone new, particularly if it is in another area. Check the wording of any advert – does it look right, are there spelling mistakes? Can you find out any information about the employer – online or in the phone book, for example? Is there a contract of employment for the job? Does the employer hold back your pay for food, accommodation or transport?
Always tell someone else where you are going and when you expect to return or contact them to let them know you are safe.
Keep your documents and phone safe. You may be asked to show your passport as evidence of your identity and right to work in the UK; only hand over your passport if you know you will get it back (ideally, don’t let go of it at all).
If they offer to pay for your travel or charge you a ‘work finding fee’ – be very suspicious. Do not get into a position where you owe them money. Work finding fees are illegal in the UK.
Be careful about forming new relationships, particularly if you are a young woman. Sex traffickers can often act as boyfriends first. Women can also act as ‘recruiters’ who will trick a woman into going to a place where they then become exploited for sex. Do not get into a stranger’s vehicle (always check a taxi is properly licensed) or accept drinks from a stranger.
Know your rights
You are entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for work you do. If you are being paid less per hour, your employer is acting illegally and, if you are in forced labour or servitude (for example, you are not free to leave your work) you are also a victim of Modern Slavery. The Working Time Regulations also limits the amount of hours you can be asked to work, as a general rule this is 48 hours per week, but some exemptions apply. You are also entitled to have adequate rest periods.
From April 2016 the National Minimum Wage is £7.20 (age 25 and over) £6.70 (20-24), £5.30 (18-20), £3.87 (under 18) or £3.30 (apprentice). It does not apply to self-employed people, volunteers and some other types of workers including people living and working in a religious community.
You are also entitled to paid holiday and protection for your health and safety.
If you have any questions about Pay and Hours call the ACAS Helpline: 0300 123 1100 or visit
Reporting and help
Support is available for people who are enslaved and the local Police are working with partners in the voluntary and public sectors to help end Modern Slavery.
If you think you have been a victim of Modern Slavery or Sexual Exploitation, or you think someone else is, you can speak to the following people:
Crimestoppers – 0800 555 111.
Police – 101 (non-emergency) or 999 (if it is an emergency).
Salvation Army – 0300 303 8151 (24/7 helpline).
Unseen (helpline for anyone with concerns or questions about modern slavery) – 08000 121 700
Gangmasters Licensing Authority – 0345 602 5020
If you are concerned about the welfare of a child or children you can report this to The Devon Childrens and Families Partnership or for adults you can report this to Devon Safeguarding Adults Partnership.
Public Authorities have a Statutory Duty to Notify the Secretary of State of any individual identified in England and Wales as a suspected victim of slavery or human trafficking.
Be Curious - raising awareness of exploitation
Be Curious is a campaign which aims to raise awareness of three main activities where, often vulnerable, people are exploited:
- Modern Slavery
- Child Sexual Exploitation
- Violent Extremism and Radicalisation