By Poppy Blundell – Senior Practitioner The Liberty Project BCHA

Modern slavery is happening all around us. People you walk past in the streets, in shops, on building sites, could be living and working in horrendous conditions, held against their will with violence, and being exploited.

The latest Government report on modern slavery, the 2021 UK annual report on modern slavery, states there were 10,613 potential victims of modern slavery reported that year, and referred into The National Referral Mechanism (NRM). This number reflects the victims that have been identified by a first responder, who are now receiving support, it does not include people who are still enslaved. The number of victims of modern slavery is likely to be a lot higher, due the hidden nature of the crime. It’s estimated that more than 40 million people globally are currently in modern slavery, including men, women, and children.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, and ensuring they receive appropriate support. The Home Office have responsibility of all aspects of the NRM. They ensure there are support and advocacy services for all potential victims of modern day slavery. Or as we prefer to call them, survivors. In terms of supporting adult survivors, the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC) was introduced in January 2012 which is delivered by The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army refer survivors to front line support providers, who offer the specialist support to survivors, this is where The Liberty Project comes in to play.

We support survivors in a variety of areas, such as, accommodation, accessing legal services, criminal proceedings, mental health, physical health, training, education for dependents, and the list goes on. Our specialist support workers offer a bespoke service to each survivor, enabling them to live a life free from abuse, and gain the skills and confidence to live independently.

Modern slavery is a complex, dangerous, and secretive crime. It’s an umbrella tem that covers many different forms of exploitation, such as labour and criminal exploitation, domestic servitude, organ harvesting, and sexual exploitation, to name a few. Contrary to common belief, the most common nationality for survivors in the NRM, are UK nationals.

Since working in the field of anti-slavery, when discussing modern slavery and human trafficking with a new recruit or external agency, I tend to receive a response along the lines of ‘yes, I know, sex trafficking’. Sex trafficking is not the most common form of modern slavery in the UK, its labour exploitation, however it appears to be the most well-known. I would put this down to mainstream media, social movements, and the general public’s understanding of how heinous, intrusive, and demoralising this crime is. It seems to cause more of an emotional response to an onlooker, than other forms of slavery and trafficking. Even with heightened media attention and public outcry, every minute of every day, someone is still being exploited for sex, or forced into the sex trade. Although it has gained a lot of attention, efforts to combat it, have not eradicated it, and it is arguably the most lucrative business globally.

‘The acquisition, movement, and exploitation of sex slaves form an industry that generates billions of dollars in profits each year, at a profit margin greater than almost any industry in the world, illicit or otherwise’ (Kara, 2007). Kara (2007) breaks down the costs in many countries to buy a sex slave (if any), the costs to keep them, and the money perpetrators generate off them, and he concludes they are the most profitable slave to own globally. He continues by evidencing the global weighted net profit margin of a sex slave is 70%, compare this to Googles net profit margin of 29%, and you start to see the reality of how profitable the sex trafficking industry is. These statistics are fairly old, however Googles current net profit margin is 25.89% (2022). The difference between selling sex slaves, and other commodities, or criminal activities, is that sex slaves you can repeatedly use. Whereas, you can only sell something like drugs once. Sex slaves can be repeatedly sold, and the abuse only stops if they escape, which is not normally possible, or through death. This makes sex trafficking appealing to perpetrators.

There are a few actions that can be taken by anyone to help battle this crisis. Firstly, making people aware that modern slavery exists all around us in the UK, and how to spot the signs. Signs include; someone working long hours, substance dependency, a person being chaperoned, lack of possessions, language barriers, passport being held by someone else, unwanted/unplanned pregnancy, lack of access to medical care, isolation, malnutrition, psychological trauma, and money being withheld. Just because someone displays one of these signs, it does not mean they are definitely a victim of modern slavery, however, it is a red flag. Educating people on the signs of modern slavery is key. This along with Government changes, that would see more police raids on suspicious properties (such as brothels), tougher penalties on perpetrators, fast track courts to prosecute trafficking criminals, fully funded witness protection, and the creation of an international anti-slavery force, would all assist in the fight against modern slavery, and supporting survivors.

If you believe someone is a victim, or has been a victim, of modern slavery, please call the police or the national slavery and trafficking helping on 0800 0121 700.

If you would like more information on spotting the signs of modern slavery, or would like us to come and do a talk at your business or school, please contact us on [email protected].

Together we can identify and support survivors of modern slavery. It starts with speaking about the issue, knowing the signs, and where to report the crime.



Siddharth Kara. (2007). Sex Trafficking Inside The Business Of Modern Slavery. New York: Columbia University Press.