Trafficking and modern slavery – victims’ rights

There is a huge variety of forms that modern slavery can take - it encompasses the offences of human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. While labour exploitation is the most common amongst both potential adult and child victims according to the Home Office, other types of exploitation range from domestic servitude to sexual exploitation and organ harvesting.

The victims of modern slavery come in all shapes and sizes. The top 10 most common countries of origin of potential victims demonstrate the broad range of victims, and they include five European countries (of which four are EU member states), three African countries and two Asian countries. Irregular migration as a result of instability and conflict in Africa and the Middle East have increased the numbers of people vulnerable to trafficking, but the fact that the UK is at number 5 of this list highlights that it is not just a cross-border issue. Although the Home Office's figures do not record the number of potential victims who have disabilities or other vulnerabilities such mental health problems, irregular immigration status or a language barrier, it is clear that the most vulnerable in society make the easiest prey for traffickers and modern slavers. 12% of potential victims were children at the time of exploitation.

Public bodies have a range of powers and duties to victims or potential victims of modern slavery at all stages, including:

  • Prevention
  • Investigation and criminal prosecution of perpetrators, including asset freezing and recovery
  • Protection of victims or potential victims
  • Support for victims, including referral of potential victims to the National Referral Mechanism, the framework set up in 2009 to ensure that victims receive help
  • Additional duties towards child victims
  • Restitution, to allow victims to get compensation from the perpetrators through the courts (criminal and/or civil)

A large number of public bodies have relatively new and/or developing duties and powers in these areas. If a public body is not meeting its duties or not using its powers lawfully, legal aid may be available to help victims to challenge this and enforce their rights. It is particularly important that police forces and the National Crime Agency understand and comply with their duties, firstly, so that victims are not criminalised and instead receive the help and support they need and are legally entitled to, and secondly, so that modern slavery offences are effectively investigated and prosecuted.

It is also vital that the necessary systems and support are in place to allow victims to make compensation claims against the perpetrators themselves, once they have been able to escape from the exploitation. This could cover compensation for lost wages, discrimination, breaches of employment laws, false imprisonment, assault or other personal injury. Unfortunately, the laws are piecemeal and complex, and victims may find the process and the need to correspond with the perpetrators difficult, if not impossible, but there is now legal aid to cover such claims and empower victims to seek justice.

Civil Liberties Solicitors in London

If you or someone you know has been the victim of modern slavery, we can advise you on your rights and how to get compensation from the perpetrator and, if necessary, redress for any failings by the state. Contact our Civil Liberties team on 02076324300 or make an enquiry online to find out more.


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