Abolishing modern slavery

12 February 2018

This article was featured in the March 2018 issue of the magazine.

Samantha Mann MAAT MCIPPDip, CIPP senior policy & research officer, reveals information on a subject that has surprising connections with pay 

The role of independent anti-slavery commissioner was created in 2014 to investigate cases of involuntary labour as part of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. 

Kevin Hyland OBE has held the post of commissioner since its inception in 2014. It is to him we turn to establish the definition of modern slavery: “Modern slavery is an umbrella term encompassing slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking. Victims of modern slavery are unable to leave their situation of exploitation, controlled by threats, punishment, violence, coercion and deception. Slavery violates human rights, denying people of their right to life, freedom and security.”

‘Coercion’ includes the withholding of wages and is captured within the definition and the findings of forced labour statistics. Forced labour continues on a global scale even though it is banned across the globe. Research carried out by the International Labour Organization and published in 2016 (http://bit.ly/2xdbMgN), reveals that of the forty million victims of modern slavery, approximately 25 million were in forced labour. 

In a recent article, the anti-slavery commissioner stated: “We need modern slavery to become socially unacceptable, like we saw with drink driving and domestic violence”. However, he warned: “there isn’t an overnight fix, when every part of the UK thinks that this cannot be tolerated any longer, then we will see a change in culture.”

The Home Office has estimated that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK.


Partnership in action

In January, the commissioner joined with officers from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to observe how they were utilising their increased powers to tackle exploitation across the entire labour market. Officers of the GLAA assisted officers from the Metropolitan Police who were visiting a hand car wash in London, which resulted in one arrest at the site in connection with suspected trafficking of Romanian nationals into the UK for the purpose of labour exploitation.

In total, twelve workers were discovered at the disused petrol station forecourt, either living on-site in shipping containers or the kiosk building or in nearby rented accommodation. All were being charged rent by the person arrested and appeared to be victims of exploitation. At the time of writing enquiries into this case are ongoing.


Awareness and knowledge

The Local Government Association (LGA) safer and stronger communities board together with the anti-slavery commissioner have published Tackling Modern Slavery: a council guide ((http://bit.ly/2rEhHfK). The guide highlights that amongst the different forms that modern slavery can take, labour exploitation occurs where a victim is made to work with little or no pay. There are other aspects that may fall under this definition but as wage payment is the most likely area where we could come across such examples let us consider what work is currently ongoing to uncover and bring an end to this aberration.

A recent article written by the GLAA asked the simple question “what does someone who has been illegally trafficked into the UK, is then forced to live in squalor and is paid a pittance for working several hours every day, have in common with a worker who is not receiving holiday pay?” The answer the GLAA give is they are both being exploited for their labour.


...includes the withholding of wages and is captured within the definition and the findings of forced labour statistics



The GLAA has replaced the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and with its new name come additional powers and a broadened remit to investigate all forms of labour exploitation.

The GLAA has specialist officers who hold police-style powers of arrest to investigate forced labour and human trafficking. 

In addition to ensuring compliance with licensing standards, the GLAA will also be working with partners – specifically HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI) – to look into labour market enforcement to include offences such as failure to pay national minimum wage and breaches of the Employment Agency Act 2004.

Guidance produced by the GLAA – Spotting the signs of labour exploitation (http://bit.ly/2cmeKJr) – identifies signs of labour exploitation and highlights possible warning signs that might see victims:

  •  receiving little or no payment 

  • have no access to their earnings

  • disciplined through punishment or fines 

  •  under the perception that they are bonded by debt 

  • with fees for their transport to the country of destination paid for by facilitators, whom they must payback by working or providing services in the destination 

  • being told that they can pay debts for transport or accommodation when they are found work 

  • charged for services they don’t want or need 

  • being forced to open bank accounts or being forced to sign documents to receive social security benefits, credit agreements or loans

  • with bank cards/documents held by someone else or have wages paid into an account used by other people.

The GLAA knows these offences are commonplace with some labour providers and comments that “it is they who we are targeting as we work with partners to eradicate illegal practices.”



The mission of the EASI is to work with recruitment agencies, hirers and work-seekers to ensure compliance with employment rights, particularly for vulnerable agency workers, and to ensure that everyone who uses the services of a private recruitment agency to find work is treated fairly (http://bit.ly/2BpFDTx).

The Immigration Act 2016 introduced two new enforcement tools for EASI, specifically labour market enforcement (LME) undertakings and orders; these powers aim to implement tougher sanctions for offenders who repeatedly fail to comply with legislation. A LME undertaking, which can be put in place when a trigger offence is identified, is an agreement given by the employment agency and/or business to bring their business into compliance.

In its 2016–17 annual report, the EASI recorded that their awareness raising appeared to be returning successful results as they had received a ten per cent increase on the previous year to the number of complaints made during 2016–17.

Over the course of 2016/17, the EASI also recovered approximately £69,500 for individuals who had been exploited. The recovered monies largely related to non-payment of wages or money due to temporary workers, or where fees were being charged to workers to be found work.

Sitting within BEIS the EASI can apply to an employment tribunal to place a ban on someone from running, or being involved in running, an employment agency or employment business. Individuals who have been banned from running an employment agency or employment business are listed on GOV.UK and the list includes the period of each ban.


Labour supplied by a third party

HMRC have updated their guidance on due-diligence checks that businesses using labour supplied by a third party should undertake to protect themselves and to understand: 

  • where their workers are coming from, and 

  • how they are being paid and the legitimacy of those arrangements. 

Four key areas should be checked to ensure: 

  • their supplier of labour is legitimate and has no history of non-compliance

  •  they understand and approve the labour supply chain

  • agency workers are paid their contractual rate and it complies with the national minimum/living wage

  • they are doing all they can to eradicate modern slavery and illegal working in their supply chains. 


Minimum wage compliance

Non-compliance with the national minimum/living wage is a consistent theme across the work of all employment enforcement agencies. As all agencies continue to invest in upskilling their resources and raising awareness of the work of each of the employment enforcement agencies we can expect to see more employers and businesses falling in to non-compliance – no matter what route is taken to reveal such failings. 


...must produce an annual slavery and human trafficking statement that sets out what steps they have taken...


Labour market enforcement

Professor Sir David Metcalf was appointed as the director of labour market enforcement on 1 January 2017. The director’s role is to oversee the work of the above three bodies to ensure that enforcement is better coordinated and aligned. The strategy for 2018–19 will underpin much of the work of these agencies in providing protection to vulnerable workers. 


And finally

Any commercial organisation in any sector, which supplies goods or services and carries on a business (or part of) in the UK with a turnover in excess of £36 million, must produce an annual slavery and human trafficking statement that sets out what steps they have taken to ensure that modern slavery is not occurring in their supply chains and in their own organisation. However, 99.8% of UK businesses are small- to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and, as we saw above, businesses caught in non-compliance will be SMEs.

It is shocking to think that in 2018 there are cases of slavery and forced labour happening. Clearly, no matter how big or small the organisation is we all need to be vigilant in ensuring we play our part in eradicating this heinous crime to protect the most vulnerable in our society. 


“Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know”. William Wilberforce, House of Commons, 1791.