Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking.

Original Article
June 18th, 2020


Modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) is one of the greatest human rights concerns of our time. The figures for victims far outnumber even the transatlantic slave trade of the 16th and 19th centuries. Currently, worldwide there are 40.3 million men, women and children in slavery and servitude, with potentially 136,000 or more of them in the UK, and this number is likely to increase in 2020.  

It is a common misconception that people being trafficked are only foreign nationals or that this issue only happens in other countries or in urban areas. The UK has a huge issue of MSHT, be it in urban, suburban, rural or remote areas. Figures for the UK show that the highest nationality by far, for both victims and perpetrators, is actually British, for both adults and children. The latest figures show an increase of 72% in exploited British nationals between 2018 – 2019 (Unseen).

This article aims to explain the current situation, raise awareness, and educate professionals within the property industry on what to be aware of when visiting and inspecting property, because we believe valuers, surveyors and other property professionals have an important role to play in helping address this criminal activity.

What is modern slavery and human trafficking?
“Human trafficking involves the recruitment, harbouring or transporting of people into a situation of exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion and they are forced to work against their will.”[1]

It can be broken down into the following categories:

•            Forced labour.

•            Sexual exploitation.

•            Child sexual exploitation.

•            Forced criminality.

•            Domestic servitude.

•            Organ harvesting.

Photo credit: National Crime Agency (NCA)

Modern slavery is a serious crime where the criminals and organised crime groups (OCGs) committing it have no regard for age, nationality or gender. They will exploit anyone they can to make a profit and any vulnerable adult or child is at risk of being groomed. These criminals know who they are looking for to manipulate or force into dangerous situations.

The damage caused to people and communities caught in slavery is extreme and the profits from exploitation are often used to fund other serious crime streams. The profits remain high, while the risks remain staggeringly low. For example, a kilo of cocaine can be cut and sold once; however, a female can be sold for the purposes of sexual exploitation repeatedly. She can also be sold for sham marriage, forced to groom others into exploitation, used to perform domestic tasks and her children can even be used in applications for benefits. The opportunities to exploit one individual are endless.

OCGs will utilise everything they can to make money from their victims; this can include organising benefits, obtaining bank accounts and credit, consequently, building up debts in victims’ names.

They use victims to commit crimes such as shoplifting, drug cultivation, forced begging, county lines drug dealing, pick-pocketing and sexual exploitation in brothels which could be found in hotels, Airbnbs, domestic properties, or they could be forced to provide services in vehicles..

Modern slavery revenues are second only to drug trafficking which is currently the most profitable crime type in the world. However, MSHT is quickly catching up and could look to overtake drug trafficking profits in the near future. The cost of investigating this complex crime type is second only to murder.

Why does the UK have such an issue of MSHT?
The issue is simple: supply and demand. Modern slavery and human trafficking is a business model. The UK is a cash rich country and people in Britain want cheaper goods and services, such as a clean car for £5.00 and nice nails for £10.00. The appetite for young sex workers is high and, sadly, child sexual exploitation occurs frequently.

A quick search on everyday sites such as Friday Ad and Viva Street returns around 14,000 hits nationally for people offering sexual services. A high percentage of those ads will be people who are forced into exploitation and some of those will be under the age of consent.

The people who use these services have little understanding of slavery and sexual exploitation and think only of their own personal gratification and not of the human being in front of them or their circumstances. The popular perception that the female must be enjoying such a lifestyle, otherwise she would just leave, is outdated and dangerous.

“Fantasy using trafficked women is fundraising for traffickers and nothing more. It is only a fantasy happening while the Madame takes out a whole bin of used condoms every day, where she puts bleach in soap dishes and tells the girls to wash with it. It is only a fantasy taking place near an empty fridge and always just a few minutes from violence.” (Anna, Slave, 2018)

Although the UK is working to tackle MSHT, knowledge on a national level is still low and people are often completely unaware that modern slavery exists here in the UK in most industries.

The UK introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It is designed to combat modern slavery and consolidates previous offences relating to trafficking and slavery.

Where are victims found?
The most well-publicised industries/sectors are car washes and nail bars; however, victims can be found working with(in):

•            Construction/sites.

•            Factories.

•            Fishing industry.

•            Fast food/restaurants.

•            Agriculture/fruit picking.

•            Hotels.

•            Livestock.

•            Shipping.

•            Domestic services.

•            Cleaning.

Victims may also be re-sold to other OCGs both nationally and internationally, and they are likely to have little knowledge of their location or where they have been. They can be trafficked using any method of travel including walking, trains, cars, buses, planes, and boats – the distance is not important. A person can be moved two meters or two counties; if it is for the purpose of exploitation, they are being trafficked.

It is also important to note that the victims do not have to be chaperoned for the entire journey. This is clear in cases of children forced into county lines or when people are moved by trains around the country for the purposes of sexual exploitation. People can be moved using any method of transport, this includes into and out of the UK.

Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking v Human Smuggling 
Human trafficking is a crime committed against a person; they have been forced into that situation. Human smuggling is a crime committed against the state; the people have paid a smuggler to move them clandestinely across borders. It is important to note that, what starts as human smuggling can quickly become human trafficking, especially when people find themselves in debt bondage. Furthermore, people who are trafficked may later pay to be smuggled out of or into a country.

Case studies in the news
Police visited an address in Bristol on July 27, 2018, after a concerned neighbour called the Modern Slavery Hotline. Police were surprised when [the victim] emerged from the cupboard under the stairs. He looked dishevelled. A search of the property revealed the victim had been using the cupboard under the stairs as a bedroom and likened his treatment to that of “the boy wizard Harry Potter”.

The victim was made to carry out forced labour and his captors controlled his finances and stopped him from eating or drinking in the house – even making him drink out of an outside hosepipe and use woodland when he needed the toilet. Despite this, when first interviewed he told officers he saw the defendants as ‘family’.

Important documents such as his ID card, bank card, financial papers, and multiple phone contracts were in a bedroom used by the controllers. The victim was filmed carrying out tasks set by the defendants and footage of the victim being made to eat highly spiced food and being ordered to dance and carry out physical challenges were shown in court.

In a series of police interviews, the victim eventually revealed that he would have to wash his clothes in the town centre and was not allowed to eat or wash inside the house, with no use of the kitchen.

The victim worked full time earning £300 to £350 a week, but he was given just enough money to buy his bus tickets and around £1 a day for biscuits, as well as £10 a week for cannabis.

He got up at 4.30am each day to travel to his job, where he worked from 6am, and upon returning in the mid-afternoon was often made to do tasks such as fetch shopping for the defendants. (Bristol Post, March 2019)

A Vietnamese woman escaped a house where she was forced to be a sex worker and was found walking the streets more than 24 hours later. Police were called by a concerned member of the public.

This woman has endured a terrifying, life-changing experience. The woman told them she had taken three buses to escape from an unknown property.

Members of the public offered the woman food and money after she asked for help. (BBC News, March 2020)

What are the signs and indicators?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to signs and indicators of trafficking. People can be trafficked into multiple industries and often are unaware that they are even a victim or they are too scared to speak out. They or their families will have been threatened and the violence and long-term trauma these people suffer is life-threatening. Therefore, any number of indicators could be present, and it is important to take each situation on its own merit and look at what is presented.

Signs of forced labour:

  • Not be in possession of their passports or other travel or identity documents.
  • Show signs that their movements are being controlled: driven to and from work.
  • Be subject to security measures and controls to keep them on the work premises.
  • Have limited contact with their families or with people outside of their immediate environment.
  • Be forced to shop at the same place and driven to ATMs in groups to collect wages each week/month.
  • Be given only leftovers to eat.
  • Be subjected to violence or threats of violence against themselves or against their family.
  • Have false identity documents.
  • Be unable to choose when or where they work.
  • Not be dressed adequately for the work: they may lack protective equipment or warm clothing.
  • Not know their home or work address or much about the area in general.
  • Live in groups in the same place where they work and leave those places infrequently, if at all.
  • Be unable to leave their work environment.
  • Be threatened with being handed over to the authorities.
  • Depend on their employer for work, transport, and accommodation without any choice.
  • Be unable to communicate freely with others.
  • Have no access to medical care.
  • Come from a place known to be a source of human trafficking.
  • Be found in or connected to a type of location/industry likely to be used for exploiting people.
  • Have no contact with anyone else.
  • Work excessively long hours over long periods/no days off in numerous industries/sectors.
  • Lack basic training or professional licences.
  • Live in poor or substandard accommodation.
  • Live in degrading, unsuitable places, such as agricultural or industrial building.

Photo credit: NCA

Signs of forced sexual exploitation:

  • Sex workers may appear scared or intimidated.
  • Individuals may be closely guarded.
  • Sex workers may show signs of physical abuse, including bruising, scarring and cigarette burns and knife cuts.
  • The person or child may have a limited English vocabulary, restricted to sexualised words.
  • The person may sleep in the premise in which they work, which could indicate a brothel.
  • There may be details of sexual activity such as cards and advertisements found nearby.
  • Unexplained, sometimes unaffordable new things (e.g. clothes, jewellery, cars etc.)
  • Young people seen in different cars/taxis driven by unknown adults.
  • Not in possession of their ID documents, arrived and left by train, knows little about their destination.
  • The individual may be transported to and from clients.
  • The person may be ‘branded’ with a tattoo indicating ownership.
  • The individual may be unable to keep payment and may have restricted or no access to their earnings.
  • Multiple female foreign nationals may be living at the same address.
  • A property might have male callers, day and night, who only stay for short periods.
  • An increase in visitors and cars to a house or flat at odd hours.
  • Residents or young people you know going missing, maybe for long periods of time.
  • Different females arriving and leaving frequently with small suitcases.

Signs of forced criminality:

  • A large group of adult or child beggars, who might be moved daily to different locations but return to the same location every night. This could indicate forced begging.
  • An individual may not benefit from the money or items they have obtained through the crimes they have been forced to commit.
  • A vulnerable person may be forced or manipulated out of their home by drug dealers who use the home as a base to sell drugs (cuckooing).
  • An increase in visitors and cars to a house or flat at odd hours.
  • Unexplained, sometimes unaffordable new things (e.g. clothes, jewellery, cars etc.)
  • People becoming part of gangs involved in county lines activity.
  • An individual might be transported to or from the scene of a crime, including shoplifting, pickpocketing or forced begging.
  • A person may be forced to cultivate cannabis with their freedom of movement restricted; including being locked in a room. It is common that the individual may not be able to speak English or have a limited vocabulary.
  • A vulnerable person may be forced to allow their property to be used for sexual purposes and/or drug distribution.
  • Changes in the way young people you might know dress and act, they may go missing frequently.
  • Young people seen in different cars/taxis driven by unknown adults.

Signs of domestic servitude:

  • They may be held in their employer’s home and forced to carry out domestic tasks, childcare, cooking, cleaning and in some cases forced to have sex.
  • The person may work more than normal working hours and know little of the area.
  • The employer may be abusive, both physically and verbally.
  • The person may be deprived of their own personal living space, food, water or medical care.
  • They may suffer from untreated injuries or illness and have bad overall health.
  • They may not be able to leave the house on their own or their movements could be watched.
  • The individual may not have access to their own belongings, their ID, mobile phone etc.
  • The person may not interact often with the family they are employed by.
  • The individual may stand out from other family members; they may wear poorer quality clothing and appear malnourished, unwell, and nervous.
  • Female slaves can be pregnant; this will be kept a secret and unexplainable.

The Modern Slavery Helpline received a 68% increase in calls and submissions in the year ending December 2018, compared with the previous year (Office for National Statistics). 

There were 5,144 modern slavery offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019, an increase of 51% from the previous year (Office for National Statistics).

The Modern Slavery Helpline received a 68% increase in calls and submissions in the year ending December 2018, compared with the previous year (Office for National Statistics). 

There were 5,144 modern slavery offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019, an increase of 51% from the previous year (Office for National Statistics).

What can you do on a professional level?
As surveyors and other property professionals, you may well find yourself in a property or on a site where slavery and trafficking is taking place. Be aware of the signs and indicators listed above.

Also be aware that alphas, nannies, madams and lieutenants are, or were, victims themselves but have moved up slightly in terms of hierarchy to control the other workers – the so called `horses`. They accept this position because they will be beaten or raped in a less brutal way, given more food and might even be given a small amount of money. The traffickers use alphas to install control and fear in their horses; they will talk on behalf of any group and will appear friendly and helpful. Remember this when you visit a location. It is important to note that an alpha can be any age, gender or nationality.

Inside a residential property, you could come across any of the indicators listed. You are more likely to see signs of domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, forced criminality or forced labour at a residential property. You could see evidence of an HMO, multiple mattresses on the floor and bad living conditions. You will find signs of cuckooing if a vulnerable person is being exploited. You could come across child sexual exploitation or a pop-up brothel, especially in sublet properties where females are dressed inappropriately. Neighbours may complain to you about what goes on at the location such as noise and people coming and going at odd hours. Take note of areas like basements or places that are locked and you are not allowed access to. Check outbuildings and note if there appear to be signs that someone may be sleeping there. Sometimes they may allow their victims to have electricity which is normally poorly prepared and will be noticeable. If you are only permitted access at certain times and are chaperoned by a foreign national speaking on behalf of others etc., this could also be a sign that something is not right.

Photo credit: NCA

Inside a commercial or agricultural property/location you are most likely to come across forced labour or forced criminality. You could see victims being forced to steal farm equipment or storing stolen goods. Working in an agricultural environment or construction site victims will look unkempt and malnourished and be scared to talk to you or look at you. They will likely not be wearing the right PPE or appropriate clothing for the season i.e. no coat in winter. There will likely be an alpha who will talk for the group. Victims have also been found at cannabis cultivation factories in commercial and agricultural areas. Note if windows are barred and or nailed shut; are there multiple locks on the doors and CCTV focused on the property? Is there takeaway litter everywhere (this is normally all they are given to eat)?

What can you do on a personal level?
We all have a duty to look out for people who are vulnerable, regardless of our professional standing. If something does not feel right, you should report it. You can help by telling people this is happening in their towns and streets: spread the knowledge, help raise awareness. This is everyone’s responsibility. Stop using high risk services which show obvious indicators of exploitation. Educate yourself so you know what to look for.

This issue needs a societal change and we cannot simply police our way out of it.

Be vigilant, think about your surroundings:

•            Hotels, Airbnbs, landlords etc. could be providing accommodation to groups of people who are being controlled or exploited.

•            Taxis, trains, and buses could be used when transporting victims.

•            Petrol stations and service stations could be used for picking up or dropping off victims.

•            Criminals will look to take advantage of locations where vulnerable people may be found, for example outside of schools or where a charity might provide refuge etc.

Together we can ensure that the services we receive and products we choose are slavery free and ethical.

Help raise awareness and pass the message on, slavery must stop.

If you find yourself in a contentious situation professionally or personally, you must never put yourself at risk. Traffickers are dangerous and if they suspect anything, they can move their victims very quickly to another location.

How is COVID-19 effecting modern slavery in the UK?
Activists and academics have warned that the coronavirus pandemic poses a special threat to Britain’s modern slavery victims because they are vulnerable on multiple fronts.

Firstly, victims of modern slavery that fall ill or exhibit symptoms of coronavirus are unlikely to stop working; they have no access to sick pay, days off and statutory benefits, and most simply do not have a choice.

Moreover, because of the United Kingdom’s current “hostile environment” for migrants, those who fall ill are unlikely to seek medical attention out of fear of being detained and possibly deported by authorities.

Those with strong family ties in their countries of origin have returned; however, this is hugely increasing demand for low-skilled work, particularly as we enter the summer fruit picking season.

A number of risks have been identified:

              If a victim or offender is infected then there is the potential for an increased risk of cross-infection and potential for severe harm as a result of isolation.

•            If labour is no longer required from victims as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, there is increased potential for harm due to neglect as food or other necessities/facilities may be cut by offenders.

•            Victims may be evicted from accommodation by offenders and become homeless.

•            If victims or offenders are infected, this increases risk of cross-infection if living or being transported in close proximity.

•            If victims are working in a sector supplying food, goods or other essential supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a potential to cross-infect and spread the virus further.

With businesses closing, unemployment rising and industries starved of cash, modern slavery victims are likely to be pushed further into exploitation to pick up the slack. Victims will be potentially in greater debt bondage as their places of work are closed.

Hotels which were used for sexual exploitation and child sexual exploitation are closing or becoming shelters for rough sleepers. This comes after a recent order of UK Government for all rough sleepers to be moved off the streets and housed by the local authorities.

The government has announced as part of the protective measures that individuals supported through the modern slavery victim care contract will be allowed to stay in government-funded safe accommodation during April, May and June 2020. The government also continues to work with the Salvation Army, the primary provider of victim support, on reviewing processes and policy to maintain the services they provide to modern slavery victims during this time.

How to report MSHT?
•                       POLICE – immediate threat to life, call 999

•                       Submit intelligence to your local police force via their online portal

•                       Modern Slavery Helpline 0800 121 700 (confidential and open 24/7)

•                       Crime stoppers 0800 555 111 or submit information via their anonymous online Form

•                       Victim Support can be called on 0808 16 89 111 or contacted via an online form

•                       Migrant Help can be called on 0808 8010 503

•                       The Salvation Army have a 24/7 confidential referral helpline, which can be called on 0800 808 3733.

Useful apps and websites:

  • The STOP app – produced by anti-slavery charity STOP THE TRAFFIK. This was the first app of its kind to enable people anywhere in the world to report suspicious incidents of human trafficking anonymously and securely.
  • Unseen app – produced by the national Modern Slavery Helpline. This free app provides a simple guide to recognising the signs of modern slavery and reporting concerns in confidence.
  • Safe Car Wash app – produced by The Clewer Initiative. Focusing on car washes only, this app asks a series of questions related to the indicators of modern slavery and if there is a high likelihood that modern slavery is occurring in the hand car wash, you will be asked to report your concerns to the Modern Slavery Helpline. The data is anonymised and shared with the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

Hilary Grayson writes:

I am a member of the group Women in Residential Property (WIRP). This group hosts regular events for women in the residential property sector. It provides an informal environment for networking, developing friendships and sharing knowledge to encourage collaboration across the sector. 

WIRP was launched in 2017 by the wonderful Emma Vigus, Managing Director of Mio which provides sales progression software for estate agents and has a chosen charity for which it fundraises on a regular basis.

The charity supported by WIRP is ‘Ella’s’ ( Ella’s provides safe houses for women affected by trafficking and exploitation, where they can recover and live safely until they are ready to move out.

As we have seen in the article by Marsha Humphreys and Jana Sherrin, human trafficking and exploitation is here in the UK under our very noses and Ella’s opened to help meet a desperate need. 

According to the Ella’s website: 

“In 2018 there were 6,993 people referred as potential victims of trafficking to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM)* in the UK.  People identified in this way are given time in shelters to reflect and recover. The organisations that run these shelters all go above and beyond and do amazing work to support the people referred to them. However, more resources and further aftercare is needed to keep up with the demand and to continue the recovery process. 

”Unlike victims of modern slavery in Northern Ireland and Scotland, the law in England and Wales currently does not give victims a right to support. The Government provides these victims with a limited period of care on a non-statutory basis while the authorities decide if the person is a victim, but then the support ends. Although some victims are entitled to further help, the vast majority (and this is true of victims across the UK) are left to fend for themselves, often at risk of homelessness and vulnerable to being re-trafficked.’’  (Free for Good Campaign)

Please go to the Ella’s website to read more about the work this wonderful charity does and, if you can, perhaps make a small donation to help them continue the good work. They are a tiny charity battling the aftereffects of organized crime. 

Terminology explained:

Grooming – making someone feel cared for, giving someone affection, building an emotional connection and trust with someone for the purpose of exploitation. The grooming process can be over a long period of time or can happen quickly. Grooming techniques can also be used on those associated with a victim in order to support access to that victim. Many victims do not recognise manipulative techniques used by the perpetrator. Grooming can happen in person or via the internet.

Trade in human organs – organ harvesting involves trafficking people in order to use their internal organs for transplant. The illegal trade is dominated by demand for kidneys. These are the only major organs that can be wholly transplanted with relatively few risks to the life of the donor. It is important to note that there has not been a confirmed instance in the UK, this is used as a threat to control people. Organ harvesting does happen in other countries around the world.

County lines crime – county lines crime/gangs commonly involve the illegal distribution and dealing of drugs from one city/town to another location. Organised crime groups will travel across counties and use a branded mobile phone line (county line) to notify customers of their location and drugs they have available. They recruit and use vulnerable children and young adults who are exploited and forced to carry drugs and money between locations for them.

Cuckooing – this is when drug dealers/organised crime groups take over the home of a vulnerable individual and use it as their base for selling/manufacturing drugs. Commonly, drug users are targeted and are offered “free” drugs in exchange for using their home; however, anyone who is vulnerable could be at risk and forced into this crime.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) – is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, for no medical reason. It is also known as “female circumcision” or “cutting”.

Breast ironing – also known as breast flattening, is the pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl’s breasts, using hard or heated objects, to try to make them stop developing or disappear.

Horses – a derogatory term used by traffickers to describe the people/victims they control.

Debt bondage – occurs when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt. They are tricked into working for little or no pay, with no control over their debt. Most or all of the money they earn goes to pay off their loan. The value of their work invariably becomes greater than the original sum of money borrowed. Criminals will continue to increase the victim’s debt, which ultimately means they will never be able to repay it.

Clandestine – a clandestine entrant is a foreign national who tries to enter the United Kingdom with the aim of avoiding immigration controls by way of concealment, for example, in a vehicle.

People smuggling – involves the provision of a service, typically transportation or fraudulent documents, to an individual or family who voluntarily seeks to gain illegal entry into a foreign country. It is possible that what begins as people smuggling can later turn in to human trafficking and modern slavery.

Human trafficking – human trafficking involves the movement and exploitation of men, women and children for the purposes of forced labour, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation.

Forced criminality – adults and children are trafficked and forced to commit crimes such as cannabis cultivation, ATM theft, shop lifting, county lines drug dealing, pick pocketing and benefit fraud or forced begging.

Organised crime groups – organised crime groups (OCGs) can be defined as serious crime planned, coordinated and conducted by people working together on a continuing basis.

Domestic servitude – the seemingly normal practice of live-in help that is used as cover for the exploitation and control of someone, usually (but not always) from another country. It is a form of forced labour. Victims of domestic servitude may appear to be nannies or other domestic help, but the moment their employment arrangement transitions into a situation whereby they cannot leave on their own free will, it becomes a case of enslavement.

Helpful contacts and awareness training

Marsha Humphreys

Protect and Prevent Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Co-ordinator Kent & Essex Police.   

Jana Sherrin

Protect and Prevent Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Co-ordinator Kent & Essex Police.

[1] Palermo Protocol 2000 produced by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner to supplement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.