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What is modern slavery?

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.

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.

What if the exploitation didn’t actually take place?

It is important to note there is no requirement for the purpose to have been achieved, so a person who escapes or is rescued before exploitation has taken place may still be a victim of trafficking and would be entitled to the same rights and entitlements.

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