United Kingdom

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 1

UNITED KINGDOM: Tier 1

The Government of the United Kingdom (UK) fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore the UK remained on Tier 1. The government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts by identifying significantly more potential victims, increasing the period of protection available for most victims, and greatly increasing funding for global and domestic anti-trafficking efforts. Although the government meets the minimum standards, the safeguarding of child victims needed increased attention and resources. Some victims remained cautious about entering the national referral system due to uncertainties in the system of the availability of extended care and fear of eventual deportation. Resources available for law enforcement efforts and victim support lagged compared to the increased number of victims identified by authorities.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE UNITED KINGDOM

Expand nationwide the independent child trafficking advocate program and training for social workers and care providers to better safeguard child victims working with children; reform the national referral mechanism (NRM) to encourage victim participation, providing specialized services for all types of trafficking victims across UK jurisdictions regardless of immigration status; provide sufficient resources for expeditious processing of trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and increase restitution awards to victims; provide a trafficking-specific long-term alternative to deportation for foreign victims; extend the period of victim support from 45 to 90 days in Northern Ireland, consistent with other UK jurisdictions; establish a database on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences of convicted traffickers across the UK, categorized by type of trafficking; intensify training for law enforcement personnel, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, and front-line responders, including in UK overseas territories; ensure that the statutory definition of trafficking under the Modern Slavery Act and similar provisions in Northern Ireland do not require movement of the victim as an element of the crime.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained prosecution efforts. The Modern Slavery Act of 2015, applicable to England and Wales, and similar statutes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to life imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Laws across the UK allow for the seizure of convicted traffickers’ assets for payment to victims. There is an inconsistency in the definition of ‘trafficking’ between jurisdictions within the UK. Law in England/Wales and in Northern Ireland requires the element of movement of a victim in the definition of ‘trafficking,’ which is not required in the definition of ‘trafficking’ under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. Scotland, by contrast, does not require victim movement in the definition of trafficking. However, all UK jurisdictions criminalize ‘slavery and servitude’ in other provisions wherein victim movement is not an element of the crime.

The government did not report the number of trafficking investigations initiated in 2016 or 2017. The Crown Prosecution Service, which handled cases in England and Wales, prosecuted 265 defendants on trafficking charges with 80 convictions in 2017, a decrease from 343 prosecutions and 216 convictions in 2016. Authorities in Northern Ireland reported prosecuting three trafficking cases with one conviction during the reporting period, compared to five prosecutions and two convictions in 2016. In Scotland, there were two convictions in 2017 compared to three convictions in 2016. The UK government did not report disaggregated data that differentiated between sex and labor trafficking. The government reported several cases in which convicted traffickers received significant penalties. In February, three Romanian residents of a women’s refuge in Westminster provided evidence that led to the successful prosecution and conviction of their captors for sex trafficking, with two men receiving sentences of 14 years each. In the same month, two men were sentenced in another case to 12 years and four years respectively for sex trafficking. NGOs expressed concern that prosecutions lag and court-imposed sentences and fines were insufficient to deter potential perpetrators, and this contributed to victims’ reluctance to provide testimony.

The government provided a wide variety and multiple levels of anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and justice officials, and required new police recruits and detectives to complete training modules on trafficking. The national-level College of Policing launched a course for all front-line officers, as well as a four-day course for investigators requiring specialist skills, including training on the 2015 guidelines for improving victim identification. The anti-slavery commissioner implemented guidelines for training for all 43 police forces in England and Wales, including a manual for use by each unit in conducting their own trainings. The government trained 1,500 members of the judiciary in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, police trained front-line officers and other agencies through a dedicated anti-human trafficking unit and created a position in the Department of Justice to improve data collection and create training modules. The Local Government Association, to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts outside of large cities, produced a guide for local police officers on trafficking indicators. The Home Office and UK law enforcement officials participated in 44 anti-trafficking operations across the EU. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government increased protection efforts. Through the NRM, authorities referred 5,146 potential trafficking victims for care nationwide in 2017, compared with 3,805 in 2016 and 3,266 in 2015. The largest source countries were Albania, Vietnam, and the UK, and a majority were victims of labor trafficking. Among adults, authorities referred 325 victims for domestic servitude, 1,132 for other forms of labor trafficking, 945 for sex trafficking, and 123 for unknown exploitation. The percentage of these victims who were minors increased by 66 percent in 2017, following a 30 percent increase in 2016. The Home Office attributed the increase to greater awareness of the NRM and training among professionals and first responders, greater awareness of child trafficking in general, and the frequent link to child sexual exploitation. Increased awareness by the public and authorities of gang recruitment of children as couriers of drugs was also a factor. Authorities referred 104 of the minors for domestic servitude, 473 for other forms of labor trafficking, 359 for sex trafficking, and 342 reported as unknown. The Modern Slavery Act includes a “duty to notify” requiring government agencies to report potential adult victims encountered to authorities via the NRM, and police who refer a potential victim must record a potential crime.

The NRM guides the process for identifying and providing care and support for victims. A first responder, such as police, border patrol, or local authorities, typically generated a referral. The Visas and Immigration section in the Home Office and the UK Human Trafficking Centre received referrals of potential victim; these officials conducted a preliminary review for “reasonable grounds” of trafficking. If found, there was a final determination of “conclusive grounds” that triggered an extension of victim protection measures. Upon a “reasonable grounds” decision, the victim started a 45-day reflection period with access to services such as accommodation, health care, and counseling, and then decided whether to assist in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator. The Modern Slavery Act required a final determination within 45 days, although in many cases the government did not meet this deadline. On recommendation from the anti-slavery commissioner, the government granted an additional 45 transitional days of victim support (for a total of 90 days), an increase from the previous allowance of 14 days of transitional support. Scotland followed a similar timeframe, although Northern Ireland remained at a single 45-day period. In addition, first responders must now assist potential victims in reaching a “place of safety,” provided through an on-call NGO. North Wales used a multi-faceted victim reception model to provide support within two hours after identification of a potential victim. Authorities also granted victims access to drop-in services from a designated NGO for an additional six months after transition out of the NRM.

The UK government-funded a £9 million ($12.2 million) NGO contract to coordinate the provision of care for adult victims in England and Wales under the NRM. In Northern Ireland, NGOs worked in tandem with government agencies to provide care for victims; however, NGOs cited insufficient funding for victims who did not enter the NRM or who required support following completion of their trafficking cases and remained in Northern Ireland. The Scottish government provided £800,000 ($1.1 million) toward victim support, an increase from £700,000 ($945,950) in 2016, distributed through two NGOs. Victims who returned voluntarily to their country of origin were eligible for up to £2,000 ($2,700) support toward reintegration. Foreign victims who assisted with investigations were eligible for residency up to one year, although authorities otherwise typically deported foreign victims after leaving the period of support under the NRM. As a result, some foreign victims preferred petitioning for asylum to entry into the NRM, given the potential for longer residency in the UK.

While government funding of NGOs tripled over the past four years to £9 million ($12.2 million), adequate funding remained a challenge in the face of rapidly growing numbers of identified victims. The National Crime Agency launched the “Vulnerable Persons Team,” which granted assistance to avoid re-victimization once an investigation was completed. Similarly, the Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group’s “Survivor Care Pathway” provided a long-term post-NRM individualized plan for survivors.

Children received care through local children’s services offices. NGOs continued to raise concern over the need for mandatory training for social workers. The Modern Slavery Act provided for the appointment of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTA) to represent and support children victims throughout the legal process. The government released a plan to expand the number of ICTAs, already available in Wales, Hampshire, and Manchester, although NGOs asserted implementation had been slow. The government trained all ICTAs and provided £3 million ($4.1 million) over three years to address the issue of missing children at risk of re-victimization. Local authorities highlighted the issue particularly among Vietnamese youth, with 150 having gone missing from care or foster homes since 2015, and being especially vulnerable to trafficking by gangs in the illegal cultivation of cannabis. Scotland and Northern Ireland also required appointment of independent legal guardians for child victims of trafficking.

Victims had a statutory defense for crimes committed as a consequence of their trafficking, and courts allowed victims during hearings to testify by video, behind a screen, or with the public removed from the court. Courts could confiscate assets of convicted traffickers and compensate victims through reparation orders; however, progress was slow in providing this compensation to victims.

Foreign domestic workers who were trafficking victims could change employers during the six-month period following their admission, and any domestic worker who was a victim could remain in the UK for an additional two years. Domestic workers on an employment visa for more than 42 days were required to attend a session to inform them of their rights and protections. NGOs still argued this policy of tying visa status to actual employment as a domestic worker continued to leave workers vulnerable and discouraged victims from reporting abuses. The government encouraged efforts of private companies to assist in reintegration, particularly through employment of survivors. Under the “Bright Future” campaign, a national retail cooperative hired and trained 30 survivors in partnership with an NGO, a model the government continued to promote for expansion.

PREVENTION

The government increased prevention efforts. The Prime Minister continued to chair a national coordinating task force set up in 2016. In September, the anti-slavery commissioner and the Evening Standard newspaper published results of their joint research on the effectiveness of anti-trafficking efforts in the UK, including the need for increased victim support, and stronger efforts against trafficking in the supply chain of consumer products. In October, the anti-slavery commissioner’s annual report highlighted achievements and outlined remaining challenges under the 2016-2017 strategic plan.

Police worked closely with the Home Office to provide information on anti-trafficking operations, reflected in the increased and wide-ranging UK media coverage on trafficking investigations. In partnership with police and an NGO, a major British bank trained staff at multiple branches on spotting signs of trafficking when serving customers, reporting suspicious activity for investigation, and following steps for freezing trafficking-related bank accounts. In September the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and Crimestoppers co-sponsored a highly publicized television campaign encouraging viewers to “spot the signs” of trafficking and report suspicious activity to authorities. In another campaign, members of parliament as well as police officers, male and female, painted and photographed their fingernails in a widely promoted social media effort to end trafficking in nail bars, using the hashtag #LetsNailit. The Clewer Foundation under the Church of England mobilized congregants nationwide to be alert to trafficking indicators, initially focusing on car wash services. A national helpline received 3,710 calls and 710 internet contacts in 2017, collectively indicating 4,886 potential victims, with 54 percent of calls considered possible trafficking cases.

Under the Immigration Act of 2016, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority continued to enforce labor standards in high-risk sectors, using their widened authority to investigate regulatory and criminal offenses in employment. The Joint Slavery and Trafficking Analysis Centre within the National Crime Agency focused on research and developing best practices in cybercrime, child protection, immigration crime, financial crime, effective training, and awareness building. The Modern Slavery Act required businesses with annual revenue exceeding £36 million ($48.6 million) to publish an annual statement detailing efforts to ensure its operations and supply chains are free of human trafficking. Many companies had developed toolkits, run training programs, and signed agreements with suppliers toward maximizing supply chain transparency. Some critics noted the lack of a penalty for non-compliance. The Home Office produced an evidence-based “Typology of Modern Slavery” to improve understanding of the complexities and multi-faceted dimensions of the crime. The typology contains operational guidance, recommendations on provision of services to victims and survivors, and ways the public can better spot the signs of a trafficking.

The government led efforts in both bilateral and multi-lateral contexts. In September the prime minister hosted a “Call to Action” event during the UN General Assembly securing endorsements for increased anti-trafficking efforts from 44 countries. The government committed £170 million ($229.7 million) to fund anti-trafficking foreign assistance efforts, double the current commitment, with strong focus on source and transit countries of victims entering the UK. The government did not report whether it provided anti-trafficking training to troops prior to their deployment abroad as part of international peacekeeping missions.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, the United Kingdom is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. The government estimates there are up to 13,000 trafficking victims in the UK, with one-fourth to one-third being children. Children in the care system and unaccompanied migrant children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, although victims also include UK children. Victims in 2017 came from 116 countries, the top three being Albania, the UK, and Vietnam. Most identified victims are subjected to labor trafficking, forced to work in agriculture, cannabis cultivation, construction, food processing, factories, domestic service, nail salons, food services, the hospitality industry, car washes, and on fishing boats. In Scotland, the largest numbers of victims are from Vietnam, many forced to work in nail bars. In Northern Ireland, there are cases of perpetrators forcing victims into begging, and the cultivation and distribution of illicit drugs.