Modern slavery – a third of UK businesses ignoring legal obligations

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 and can often face more than one type of abuse and slavery, for example, if they are sold to another trafficker and then forced into another form of exploitation.

Earlier this week, a report by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (“CIPS”) found that one-third of UK businesses required by law to complete a statement outlining the actions they have taken to combat slavery in their supply chains have failed to do so.

The survey of 1,288 supply chain professionals found that 37% of supply chains managers subject to the Act’s remit admitted to not even having read the Government guidance on Modern Slavery. Of even greater concern, the survey also revealed that 10% of UK procurement managers report having found modern slavery in their supply chains.

Under the Modern Slavery Act, all UK businesses with a turnover in excess of £36m must produce a yearly statement outlining actions taken to combat slavery in the supply chain.  Foreign companies which conduct business in the UK are also required to complete a statement – and 60% have failed to do so according to CIPS’ findings.

This is despite a report issued a month ago by the National Crime Agency (“NCA”) which found that there are more modern slavery victims in the UK than previously thought – with some 300 live modern slavery police operations in progress in the UK alone.


Source & Image Credit: National Crime Agency

Recent operational results highlighted by the NCA included:

  • The arrests of three men in north east England with suspected links to a Romanian organised crime group using the internet to advertise the services of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation, and then forcing them to launder the proceeds through criminally controlled bank accounts. Ten women were safeguarded. Across Europe, the group and its wider network are suspected to have made around €5 million in criminal profits.
  • The rescue and safeguarding of five Slovakian men encountered during an investigation into allegations of forced labour in the Bristol area. A man and woman with links to a car wash business were arrested, and are suspected of being part of a wider organised crime group.

Worldwide, a new report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Organisation for Migration and the Walk Free Foundation found that the practice of modern slavery remains disturbingly common.  Last year 25m people around the world were in some type of involuntary servitude; between 2012 and 2016, 83m were subjected to at least a brief period of such work. A quarter of such exploitation happened outside of the victim’s country of origin.



Source & Image Credit: The Economist

The legal definition of slavery was laid down in an ILO convention in 1930: work or service exacted from people against their will and “under the menace of any penalty”, yet it is stubbornly persistent.  Almost 60% of those engaged in forced labour in private enterprises are women, mainly because domestic work making up nearly a quarter of the sectors vulnerable to exploitation. In construction, manufacturing and agriculture, the next three most-exploitative sectors, most victims are men.

  • At any given time in 2016, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage.
  • It means there are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world.
  • 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children.
  • Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labour imposed by state authorities.
  • Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors

Source: Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage , Geneva, September 2017.

However, despite the lack of legal penalties for non-compliance for the lack of modern slavery compliance statements by large companies in the UK, progress is being made. Just this month nine members of one family were jailed for between ten and fifteen years for various offences under the Modern Slavery Act.  In 2015, there were 289 prosecutions and 113 convictions, compared to 253 prosecutions and 108 convictions the previous year.

Additionally, over 80,000 organisations have signed up to first Modern Slavery open data repository where businesses can upload and display their statements demonstrating that they and their suppliers make no use of forced labour.

To report a case of modern slavery please call the Modern Slavery helpline on 0800 0121 700 or report it online on the modern slavery helpline website.

Other resources include:



Global Estimates of Modern Slavery_ILO_IOM