More on the definitions of trafficking and slavery and how to work with victims.

What is modern slavery?

To the UK government, modern slavery encompasses:
  • Human trafficking
  • Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

What is trafficking?

The definition of human trafficking that is used by the UK government is taken from Article 4(a) of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings :

a “Trafficking in human beings” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

b The consent of a victim of “trafficking in human beings” to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;

c The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in human beings” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;

d “Child” shall mean any person under eighteen years of age;

e “Victim” shall mean any natural person who is subject to trafficking in human beings as defined in this article.

What does this mean?

This can be broken down into three parts:

  • The movement – recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons.
  • The control – threat, use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or the giving of payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.
  • The purpose – exploitation of a person, which includes prostitution and other sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices, and the removal of organs.

Smuggled or trafficked?

These two words are frequently used interchangeably but there are important differences.

Smuggling is normally defined as the facilitation of entry to the UK either secretly or by deception (whether for profit or otherwise). In essence, smuggling involves movement for one place to another across international borders and usually involves complicity on part of the smuggled person. The relationship comes to an end on arrival at the point of destination.

Sometimes this distinction between smuggling and trafficking becomes blurred because what commenced as smuggling may become a situation of trafficking.

Smuggling vs trafficking

Slavery, servitude and forced labour

Whenever a case is referred to the government to assess under the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the Competent Authority must consider whether someone is a victim of another form of modern slavery apart from trafficking. The word “modern slavery” as used by the government includes slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour can also be found in trafficking cases, but not every person who is exploited through forced labour has been trafficked. For example, a person may have been seriously exploited, but there was no action (element of movement), which means they do not meet the definition of a trafficking victim. The person can still get support through the NRM and be considered for a grant of leave if they are found to be a victim.

What is forced labour?

The UN Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour defines ‘forced or compulsory labour’ as:

‘all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily’.

Labour is the provision of any service, not just manual labour. ‘Penalty’ may go as far as physical violence or restraint, but it can also take subtler forms of a psychological nature, such as threats to denounce victims to the police or immigration authorities when their employment status is illegal.

Forced labour could take place in a variety of places for example, private homes, places of entertainment/the food industry or agriculture.

Consent is a factor in forced and compulsory labour, but a victim may have given consent in a situation where they felt they had no viable alternative, in which case they could still be subject to forced or compulsory labour.

For a person to be a victim of forced or compulsory labour there must have been two basic components:
  • Means: Threat of penalty e.g. threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability
  • Service: As a result of the means an individual provides a service for benefit, e.g. begging, sexual services, manual labour, and domestic service.

There does not need to be a means used for children as they are not able to give informed consent. Child forced or compulsory labour (victim not trafficked as there has been no element of movement) will consist of one basic component: service. A child provides a service for benefit, e.g. begging, sexual services, manual labour, and domestic service. Where a case meets the test for forced and/or compulsory labour, they would receive a positive conclusive grounds decision.

What is servitude?

This means an obligation to provide a service that is imposed by the use of coercion. Servitude is an ‘aggravated’ form of forced or compulsory labour.

The fundamental distinguishing feature between servitude and forced or compulsory labour is in the victim feeling that their condition is permanent and that the situation is unlikely to change.

What is slavery?

The Slavery Convention defines slavery as:

‘the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised’.

This concept of ownership is what makes slavery distinct. For example, a situation where an individual was being controlled by another would not meet this threshold, unless there was clear evidence the person was being used as a commodity. It is a form of servitude with the additional concept of ownership.

For an individual to be a victim of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour where the victims have not been trafficked, they must have been subject to a means, or threat of penalty through which that service was derived.

Types of coercion

Coercion falls into the “means” part of the modern slavery definitions.

Physical coercion is sometimes easier to spot.  It refers to the threat of the use of force or the actual use of force against the victim of modern slavery or their family members. Physical coercion could also be more subtle measures of control, for example withholding travel or immigration documents.

Psychological coercion refers to the threat or the perceived threat to the victim’s relationships with other people. Examples of psychological coercion include any of the following:

  • Blackmail
  • Ritual oaths – there is evidence to suggest witchcraft or ritual oaths can also be used to make children fearful and compliant
  • Forcing someone to pay an excessive amount of money for substandard accommodation
  • Making significant deductions from an individual’s ‘salary’
  • Threats of rejection from, or disapproval by, a peer group, family
  • Anger or displeasure by the person considered to be a partner by the victim

There does not necessarily have to be a direct personal relationship in psychological coercion. It could refer to wider issues, for example social stigma.

The Home Office guidance reminds them that even if at first someone seems like a willing participant a decision maker must consider any progression of control and coercion when making a decision.

Psychological coercion is particularly relevant in cases involving sexual exploitation or other forms of sexual violence.

Other examples of psychological control include:

  • Grooming – where vulnerable individuals are enticed over time to take part in activity in which they may not be entirely willing participants (for example the ‘boyfriend’ method is fairly common in sexual exploitation).
  • ‘Stockholm syndrome’ – where due to unequal power, victims create a false emotional or psychological attachment to their controller In both of these examples the individuals can often first appear to be ‘willing participants’.

Due to their age and dependent status children are especially vulnerable to physical and psychological coercion.

What if the exploitation happened abroad?

You can still be seen as a victim of modern slavery by the UK government.

Movement does not have to be across borders – internal trafficking also occurs.

Victims may have been subject to trafficking, slavery, servitude or forced labour before they came to the UK, including within their own country. Then they escape and travel to the UK. They can still be recognised as a victim of modern slavery once they arrive here.

It is important to remember that British citizens can also be seen as victims of modern slavery too.

Working with victims

It is important to show acceptance and understanding when working with victims. Encouraging agency and practicing non-judgment helps redress the balance against negative attitudes victims have already experienced.

Discrimination can be linked to trafficking in many ways. People who are most at risk of exploitation (for example, members of minority groups) are susceptible to discrimination and intolerance based on factors like their race, ethnic background, religion or gender.

Anti-trafficking and slavery measures should not negatively affect the rights of the person involved or overwhelmingly affect just one group. For example, the detention of women is an example of a possibly discriminatory response to trafficking. Victims should not be discriminated against just because of their status.


When communicating with victims it is important to gain their trust. The principles and approaches below can help with this.

Some guiding principles:
  • Use a victim centred practice: be guided by the victim’s rights and wishes and foster an environment of empowerment to reverse experiences of control and manipulation.
  • Practice non-judgement: victims should be treated with respect and recognition.
  • Consider the effects of trauma and respond appropriately (see below).
  • Be clear and accountable on what help is available: explain how you can help (i.e. finding them a place to stay, counselling and medical services, and specialist advice) and when things will be done. Do not promise what you cannot provide.
  • Equal opportunities: try to keep the service accessible for all languages and ethnic/cultural backgrounds.
  • Anti-discriminatory practice: actively challenge oppression and discrimination.
  • Be reliable and follow up on what you have promised to look into.
  • Privacy and confidentiality are important: explain this to the victim.
Practical points for talking to a victim:
  • Give regular breaks or collect information over a number sessions as you build your relationship. It is often difficult to get a “full story” in one session, especially if this is the beginning of a relationship.
  • Find a private space.
  • Be aware of anyone accompanying the individual and how they could be involved with the exploitation. If there is the possibility of speaking to the victim alone, do so.
  • Ask if the victim has a gender preference – be sensitive to the fact that some may find it hard to open up because of your gender.
  • Find good interpreters who are professionally qualified if possible. This can be difficult if the language is unusual, in which case expertise in the language is important to assess, alongside their communication skills and sensitivity to vulnerable clients. Interpreters should also be of a gender that the person feels comfortable talking in front of. Try to keep the same interpreters when working with one client if possible. Be aware that clients can find it difficult to open up to interpreters from their own cultural background for fear of judgment on religious or cultural grounds, or that their story will be relayed to members of their community – be ready to explain an interpreter’s professional duties of confidentiality to reassure the client.
  • Be aware victims often don’t like repeating their story in front of new people – try to keep the same caseworkers and interpreters if possible.
  • Be aware of nonverbal communication cues.

Use the active listening FOCUS model:

  • Focus discussion on specific information needed
  • Open-ended questions to expand discussion
  • Closed questions to get specific information
  • Use active listening skills to understand what is being said
  • Summarise and close the discussion.

Other things to bear in mind

Victims often:

  • Feel ashamed and don’t want to talk about their experiences
  • Do not speak English and are unfamiliar with UK culture
  • Fear and distrust police, government and health care providers
  • Are not aware that they are a victim of crime
  • Do not consider themselves victims
  • Do not understand the word ‘trafficking’ or ‘slavery’ or think it applies to them
  • Blame themselves for their situations
  • May have developed positive feelings toward trafficker to cope with their situation
  • May try to protect the person who exploited them from the authorities
  • Do not know where they are, because traffickers or slave masters move them frequently to escape detection
  • Fear for safety of family in home country.
What should you do and say in an interview with a client?
  • Use affirming statements: we are here to help you; what happened to you is not your fault; you are not alone now; we want to keep you safe
  • Believe the victim – accept what you are told as true unless evidence is given to suggest otherwise
  • Let them speak in their own time – tell your client that they can talk whenever they are ready, and only what they feel comfortable saying
  • Explain the process and who they might meet throughout the process (e.g. the police) and that they have no obligation to cooperate
  • Be ready to use another word that is not ‘trafficking’ when talking about what has happened to the client as they do not always understand this or like the word
Warning signs of trauma
  • Nightmares or flashbacks about the past
  • Selective amnesia
  • Anxiety (easily startled), social withdrawal, dissociation
  • Difficulty assimilating and understanding information
  • Signs of self-harm or addictive behaviours

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