Modern Slavery

Modern Slavery is an area we, at SMQ Legal in Oxford, encounter in various aspects of our practice.  Whether it be from raising a modern slavery defence to criminal offending or taking out protective orders in the family courts to support victims, we understand how Modern Slavery works.

Modern slavery is “the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation” and it is a crime.

Officially modern slavery was outlawed by the 2015 Modern Slavery Act (MSL), which gathers together all previous laws and introduces new ones. However, in October 2019, the bodies of 39 Vietnamese people were discovered in the back of a truck. Like most victims of modern slavery, they were seeking a better life; those responsible for trafficking were breaking the law and profiteering from this hope.

Hope – and exploitation – are in no short supply; according to Justice Secretary Buckland, modern slavery is in every town across the UK.

The following are the five main types of exploitation, but due to their illegality, there are no reliable statistics available.

Labour exploitation is where victims are forced to work for nothing, low wages or a wage that is kept by their owner; work is involuntary, forced and/or under the threat of a penalty, and the working conditions can be poor. The Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Society says that the scale is “increasing and remains a significant threat” and attributes this to the “demand for low cost-services.”

The victims of sexual exploitation are usually women and girls – but can be boys or men. They are sexually exploited for another’s gratification, some of whom will have no idea that they are complicit in perpetuating crime. A European Parliament report on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact in gender equality, says that:

“some Member States estimate that between 60% and 90% of those in their respective national prostitution markets have been trafficked.”

Domestic servitude is where victims are domestic workers who perform a range of household tasks (for example, cooking and cleaning); some live with their employers and have low pay, if any at all.

Some victims are forced to work under the control of criminals in activities such as forced begging, shoplifting, pickpocketing, cannabis cultivation, drug dealing and financial exploitation. These people are often on the receiving end of considerable coercion.

Lastly, organ harvesting. This is usually associated with poorer countries with little or no history of the promotion or preservation of human rights. It is an unusual crime in the UK but prior to the 2015 Act there were isolated incidents of people trafficked to the UK, including a Somalian child who in 2013, was brought to the UK with the intention of harvesting her organs. Many British people go abroad for ‘black market’ transplants, which can result in HIV, hepatitis C and ultimately death.

It is clear that law enforcement is being taken seriously: In June 2019, there were over 1,479 active law enforcement investigations into modern slavery crimes – compared with 188 in November 2016. Because it is a crime, the police are required to investigate every report of modern slavery.

In addition to this obligation, help is available to victims. Support includes:

  • Temporary safe accommodation
  • Help to obtain medical treatment
  • Help in dealing with the emotional experiences of being trafficked
  • The provision of an interpreter/translator to help you communicate in English and understand what is happening to you
  • A victim is also entitled to independent legal advice

SMQ Legal is here to advise you if you feel you need support.  First and foremost, if reading the above applies to you, please call the police.


By Melissa Mallows



Modern Slavery Helpline 08000 121 700

The Salvation Army Helpline 0300 303 8151

Government Information Leaflet for victims of modern slavery:

Information about accessing free legal help:


Further information,for%20the%20purpose%20of%20exploitation.


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