Country Study
52 of 167Prevalence Index Rank

United Kingdom

  • 11,700 Estimate number living in Modern Slavery
  • 0.02% Estimate percentage of population living in Modern Slavery
  • 26.79/100 Vulnerability to Modern Slavery
  • BBB Government Response Rating
  • 64,856,000 Population
  • $39,762 GDP (PPP)


How many people are in modern slavery in United Kingdom?

The UK is a destination for men and women from Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East often seeking better livelihood opportunities. In 2014, research was carried out in the context of the UK Government's Modern Slavery Strategy to estimate the scale of enslaved people living in the UK. The Home Office estimated as many as 10,000—13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK, an estimate reflected in the 2016 Global Slavery Index.[1]

Country Findings of Prevalence


Estimate number enslaved

Cases of modern slavery have been uncovered in diverse sectors and locations—from Vietnamese children locked into Manchester flats to grow cannabis to Albanian women and girls sexually exploited in the London sex industry, and to the hundreds of men working low or semi-skilled jobs trapped in situations of debt bondage.[2] The National Crime Agency estimates 3,309 potential victims of human trafficking came into contact with the State or an NGO in 2014.[3] The latest government statistics derived from the UK National Referral Mechanism in 2014 reveal 2,340 potential victims of trafficking from 96 countries of origin, of whom 61 percent were female and 29 percent were children.[4] Of those identified through the NRM, the majority were adults classified as victims of sexual exploitation followed by adults exploited in the domestic service sector and other types of labour exploitation.[5] The largest proportion of victims was from Albania, followed by Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania and Slovakia. The 6th highest group of victims by country of origin were UK nationals.[6] These statistics do not reflect the unknown number of victims who refuse to enter the NRM or are unable to escape their situation of exploitation. Concerns have been consistently raised about the numbers of trafficked children going missing from local authority care and being re-trafficked.[7]

Forced labour

As noted in the government's 2015 review of modern slavery, labour exploitation amounting to modern slavery has been found across multiple sectors, including, but not limited to, factories, agricultural and construction sections, car washes, nail bars, restaurants and bars, the tarmac and paving industry, and the maritime sector.[8] Some victims have been identified in the scrap metal and recycling industry, chicken catching, selling DVDs, cleaning, nannies and taxi drivers. These cases are incredibly diverse, impacting men, women and children.

Significant numbers of domestic workers are brought to the UK each year, including an unknown number who travel into and out of the UK with the families they are working for in other countries.[9] In 2014, 16,753 individuals entered the UK on the Overseas Domestic Worker visa.[10]

In the UK, migrant domestic workers are tied to their employer by the immigration rules, increasing their vulnerability to exploitative practices by dissuading workers to come forward and risk deportation. Kalayaan, a UK-based NGO for migrant domestic workers, found that, in a 2015 study of their domestic worker clients, the treatment of migrant workers differed between those on tied and untied visas—68 percent of those on tied visas experienced restrictions on freedom of movement compared with 38 percent who were not tied, 70 percent worked excessive hours compared with 49 percent who were not tied, 38 percent were not paid compared with 14 percent who were not tied,[11] and 66 percent of workers had their passports withheld compared with 54 percent who were not tied. Although all figures demonstrate high levels of exploitative treatment from employers,the consistently higher rates of abuse experienced by those on tied visas indicate an urgent need to review the current system.

Forced marriage

The most recent data from the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office Unit, revealed 1,267 individuals were provided advice or support on forced marriage in 2014.[12] Of this cohort, 79 percent were female, more than 10 percent involved victims with disabilities and 11 percent involved victims under the age of 16.[13] In 23 percent of the cases handled by the FMU, there were no overseas elements. Of the 77 percent of cases with an overseas element, 88 different countries were identified, with the largest proportion involving Pakistan (38.3 percent), India (7.8 percent) and Bangladesh (7.1 percent). Considering that some victims are supported by specialist independent NGO services or by local police,[14] it is likely there is an even larger total figure.

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton. During the annual cotton harvest, citizens are subjected to statesanctioned forced labour. Monitoring by international organisations has meant the government has begun to take steps to improve the situation, however, reports from the 2015 harvest estimate that over one million people were forced to work.

Photo credit, Simon Buxton/Anti-Slavery International


What factors explain or predict the prevalence of modern slavery in United Kingdom?

Domestic trafficking remains a serious threat in the UK, particularly the grooming of teenage girls for commercial sexual exploitation.[15] Despite this, the majority of modern slavery victims identified in the UK are men, women and children from abroad.[16] The past two decades has brought a significant number of migrants and job seekers, vulnerable to accepting low-paid, low-skilled work, which may be exploited at the hand of traffickers, gangmasters or opportunistic employers. Despite an increased and widespread awareness of the existence of modern slavery, too few potential victims or perpetrators of modern slavery are identified.[17] Once within the UK, the diverse sectors victims are found in, including those on geographicallyremote farms or behind closed doors in private homes, make it exceedingly difficult to identify and provide outreach.

Average Vulnerability Score


CountryCivil & Political ProtectionsSocial, Health, & Economic RightsPersonal SecurityRefugees & ConflictMean
United Kingdom18.4520.3721.8346.5026.79

The restrictions imposed by the Overseas Domestic Worker visa in April 2012 are reportedly linked to vulnerability. This tied visa, valid for six months, is not renewable and prevents domestic workers changing their employer, regardless of their circumstances. In effect, it means domestic workers cannot legally remain in the UK if they leave their employers—easily allowing employers to use the threat of the involvement of the immigration authorities to coerce workers. Although not in and of itself responsible for modern slavery, this dependency on the employer reduces the willingness of domestic workers to challenge any mistreatment or report abuse to the police. This is because it will likely result in the termination of their employment and removal to their home country (unless the conditions they experienced amount to a situation of trafficking or forced labour thereby allowing them to access short-term protective services). A recent policy change, bringing into effect Section 53 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, means that domestic workers must receive a positive Conclusive Grounds decision from the National Referral Mechanism confirming they have been trafficked before allowing them to change employers. This provision provides for a maximum of six months further leave—a relatively short period in which the individual has no recourse to public funds and is restricted to one full-time job as a domestic worker in a private household.[18] Despite the efforts of some parliamentarians to revoke the tied visa in the new Modern Slavery Act, the visa remains in place.

The situation can be further complicated in cases involving domestic workers in diplomatic households. Before and during 2014, diplomatic immunity trumped trafficking in cases of a diplomat employer exploiting a domestic worker.[19] In 2015, the UK Court of Appeals set aside immunity in a case brought by Moroccan nationals who were in domestic servitude in the Sudanese and Libyan embassies in London.[20]

The tied visa has been criticised widely by local and international organisations. The Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants noted the importance of the right to change employer "in facilitating the escape of migrant domestic workers from exploitative and abusive situations".[21] On 2 December 2015, the London Assembly called for the Mayor of London to write to Home Secretary, Theresa May, to make the case to repeal the tied-visa system.[22] At the request of Theresa May MP, an independent expert undertook a review of the visa, the findings of which were published in December 2015.[23] The report found that the "existence of a tie to a specific employer and the absence of a universal right to change employer and apply for extensions of the visa are incompatible with the reasonable protection of overseas domestic workers".[24] As of January 2016, it remains unclear if the Home Office will implement the recommendations as no timetable on a response has been provided.

From the 'Less than Human' series. A large cargo boat is seen in Songkla Port, Thailand. 09/03/2014. Photographer Chris Kelly worked undercover to expose the link between prawns being sold in big name supermarkets, and the slaves who live and work on Thai fishing boats miles out to sea.

Photo credit, Chris Kelly

Government Response

How is the United Kingdom Government tackling modern slavery?

The UK has been proactive in passing new legislation and associated policy measures to combat most forms of modern slavery throughout 2015. Government representatives, including the Home Secretary Theresa May, and the Independent AntiSlavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, have been outspoken on the existence of and need to tackle slavery on British soil. In 2014, the UK Government published a Modern Slavery Strategy detailing the role of government, law enforcement, NGOs and other partners in the fight against modern slavery under a 'four Ps' structure—pursue, prevent, protect, prepare.[25]

Government Response Rating


In March 2015, after months of drafting and debate, the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into force. The Act consolidated the existing legislation on the various forms of modern slavery and increased the maximum sentence from 14 years to life imprisonment. Other key developments include asset confiscation for perpetrators and the introduction of Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders and Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders to restrict the activity of individuals where they pose a risk of causing harm.[26] The initial draft Bill included no victim protection measures. However, as a result of significant pressure from the voluntary sector and parliamentarians, the final text of the Act includes a statutory defence for victims compelled to commit crimes, court powers to order perpetrators to pay reparations to victims, provision of advocates to support child victims, and statutory guidance on victim identification and victim services.[27] A clause to enable a system of 'Independent Child Trafficking Advocates' across England and Wales has yet to be enacted, despite pressure from NGOs and international bodies.[28]

As a result of the scrutiny of the Modern Slavery Act, the government commissioned a review of the National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking.[29] The subsequent report, published in November 2014, recommended a significant overhaul of the system. In August 2015, based on these recommendations, a year-long NRM pilot was established to trial a new system.[30] The outcome of the pilot has the potential to significantly change the way victims are identified in the UK.[31]

The Modern Slavery Act has helped to put the issue of modern slavery in supply chains front and centre for businesses operating in the UK.

Under the Act, companies whose turnover is above GB—36m are required to report on what steps they have taken to ensure modern slavery is not taking place in their business or supply chains. Though the intention of this provision is to ensure big businesses are making efforts to safeguard their supply chains, in practice, a company can merely make 'a statement that the organisation has taken no such steps' to combat slavery in their supply chain and comply with the legislation.

There are no formal repercussions should a company report that no efforts have been made to examine their supply chains and, in fact, no enforcement mechanism to ensure companies make a statement in the first place. The impact of the new laws remains to be seen.

Separate legislation exists in Scotland and Northern Ireland. On 1 October 2015, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill was passed, largely mirroring the criminal justice provisions of the Modern Slavery Act but showing stronger provision of support to victims.[32] The Bill requires Scottish Ministers to create a trafficking and exploitation strategy, reviewable every three years, with a requirement to consult with individuals and organisations on the strategy.[33] The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 was given royal assent on 13 January 2015.

In December 2015, the UK Government launched a new enhanced helpline, replacing the existing number, which will become operational in 2016. Victims will be able to call or text for help—the texting function has been included for those fearful of being overheard.[34] NGO Polaris won the Home Office tender to run the service.[35]

Forced marriage was criminalised under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 . In June 2015, a 34-yearold man was the first person convicted of a forced marriage offence under this new legislation, after making a 25-year-old woman marry him under duress.[36] Though this first conviction is a positive development, there is a clear discrepancy between the amount of cases being identified and the few that progress to conviction. Also, NGOs report that the issuing of a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) does not always restrict families acquiring new passports or travelling abroad.[37] The FMU has continued to operate a hotline to provide advice and support to victims. They have also continued to deliver outreach and training to professionals and potential victims throughout the year, as well as the 2015 'right to choose' film campaign.[38] Such awareness raising must be backed by shelter services for victims to flee to, which NGOs report are currently lacking.

Rajshahi, Bangladesh, January 2013. Dipa is 13 years old and has been engaged in prostitution for five months. She used to go to school, but stopped in class three after her family could no longer afford to send her. Her two sisters are also engaged in prostitution, but clients prefer to visit Dipa as she is the youngest of the three. She gets between four or five clients and earns about 1,200 Taka (US$15) a day.

Photo credit, Pep Bonet/ NOOR


What do we recommend


  • Implement the recommendations made in the independent review of the Overseas Domestic Workers (ODW) visa and immediately revoke the tied visa.
  • Sign and ratify ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
  • Enact a statutory system of independent child trafficking advocates or guardians for all separated and trafficked children.
  • Ensure provision of specialist foster care for trafficked children and training of frontline workers.
  • Improve data collection on victims and perpetrators of modern slavery in the UK and encourage European countries to follow the UKs led by estimating prevalence within their borders so progress can be tracked over time.
  • Increase funding for quality-assessed victim-support shelters and services.
  • Undertake a robust and comprehensive evaluation of the NRM pilots ensuring inclusion of victim feedback.
  • Restructure and reform the NRM to improve identification decision-making, and improve access to services and outcomes for victims of modern slavery.
  • Closely monitor the impact of the supply chain requirements of the Modern Slavery Act, to ensure they deliver results not just reporting.


  1. Kevin Bales, Olivia Hesketh and Bernard Silverman, 'Modern Slavery in the UK: How Many Victims?', Significance, 12, 3, p. 25 (2015). 
  2. Lindsay Fortado, 'FT Seasonal Appeal: trapped and trafficked in the UK', Financial Times, 10 December, 2015, accessed 21/02/16: 
  3. Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group, 2015 Report of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Modern Slavery, (Department of Justice, 2015), p. 14, accessed 10/02/16:
  4. National Crime Agency, National Referral Mechanism Statistics – End of Year Summary 2014, (National Crime Agency, January 2015), p. 2, accessed 22/07/15:
  5. As above. 
  6. As above. 
  7. Personal communication; see also The APPG for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, Report from the Joint Inquiry into Children Who Go Missing From Care, (The APPG for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, 2012), accessed 10/02/16:
  8. Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group, "2015 Report of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Modern Slavery", (Department of Justice, 2015), 15, accessed 10/02/16:
  9. Alastair Sloan, 'UK tied visa system 'turning domestic workers into modern-day slaves', The Guardian, 17 March 2015, accessed 21/07/15:
  10. Kalayaan, Britain's forgotten slaves: migrant domestic workers in the United Kingdom and the introduction of the tied Overseas Domestic Worker visa (Kalayaan, 2015), p. 1, accessed 17/07/15:
  11. As above. 
  12. "Statistics January to December 2014," Forced Married Unit, accessed 21/07/15:
  13. As above. 
  14. Shaheen Hashmat, 'Forced marriage in Britain: It nearly happened to me', The Telegraph, 30 September 2015, accessed 12/02/16:
  15. Personal communication; see also Sue Berelowitz, Jenny Clifton, Carlene Firimin, Sandra Gulyurtlu and Gareth Edwards, If Only Someone Had Listened, (Office of the Children's Commissioner's Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, 2013), accessed 16/07/15:
  16. Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group, "2015 Report of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Modern Slavery," (Department of Justice, 2015), 21, accessed 10/02/16:
  17. As above. 
  18. "Big step in the right direction but deficiencies leave us – and victims of modern slavery – wholly unsatisfied", Anti-Slavery International, accessed 14/12/2015:
  19. Ms C Reyes and Ms T Suryadi v Mr J Al-Malki and Mrs Al-Malki and Others [2015] EWCA Civ 32 
  20. Benkharbouche/Janah v Sudan Embassy/Libya [2015] EWCA Civ 33 
  21. Jorge Bustamante, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, (United Nations General Assembly, March 2010), p. 15, accessed 22/07/2016:
  22. "Release Migrant Workers from Tied-Visas", London Assembly, last modified December 2, 2015,
  23. "Overseas Domestic Workers Visa: Independent Review," (Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration, 2015) accessed 17/07/15:
  24. As above. 
  25. Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group, 2015 Report of the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Modern Slavery, (Department of Justice, 2015), p.9, accessed 10/02/16:
  26. "Historic Law To End Modern Slavery Passed", Home Office, 26 March, 2015, accessed 12/07/15:
  27. As above. 
  28. In 2015, Walk Free, in conjunction with ECPAT ran a campaign gathering 80,000 signatures, following a previous ECPAT campaign with The Body Shop that got 735,000 signatures. GRETA has previously criticised the UK for lack of child advocates, see: Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, Report concerning the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by the United Kingdom, (Council of Europe, 2012), accessed 17/07/15:
  29. Personal communication. 
  30. Review of the National Referral Mechanism for Victims of Human Trafficking, (Home Office, November 2014), accessed 15/07/15:
  31. Personal communication. 
  32. Personal communication. 
  33. Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill, (Human Trafficking Foundation, October 2015) ,accessed 12/02/16:
  34. Graeme Demianyk, 'Government Launches Helpline To Tackle Modern Slavery Which Home Secretary Theresa May Calls An 'Affront To Humanity', Huffington Post UK, December 9, 2015, accessed 12/02/16:
  35. Personal communication. 
  36. Press Association, 'Businessman is the First Person Jailed Under Forced Marriage Laws,' The Guardian, 11 June, 2015, accessed 27/07/15:
  37. Shaheen Hashmat, 'Forced Marriage in Britain: It Nearly Happened to Me', The Telegraph, 30 September, 2015, accessed 12/02/16:
  38. "Law and the Justice System – Guidance: Forced Marriage", Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office, last modified March 8, 2016,


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