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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, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore the UK remained on Tier 1. These efforts included prosecuting and convicting significantly more traffickers and issuing revised sentencing guidelines in England and Wales with recommended increased penalties for some traffickers. Additionally, the government identified more victims, expanded the Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTG) program, and took steps to improve victim support, including by providing specialist support for some victims to navigate the criminal justice process and providing accommodation for some victims upon identification. Furthermore, the government launched a fund to support organizations in delivering targeted prevention activities and to build evidence of effective interventions, and ministerial government departments published their first annual modern slavery statements setting out measures they took to prevent trafficking in their operations and supply chains. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not report sentencing data of convicted traffickers; thus, it was unclear if judges consistently treated trafficking as a serious crime. The government also introduced measures observers believed would hinder victim identification and protection efforts, particularly among undocumented migrants. Observers continued to report long-term care and reintegration support for victims were inadequate, and many potential victims continued to face long wait times to enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and begin receiving support. Observers reported the government penalized some victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Children in the protection system remained vulnerable to trafficking, and foreign victims faced hurdles in obtaining residence permits.

  • Implement reforms to the NRM, including timely determination of victim status, to encourage more victims to come forward, particularly undocumented migrants.
  • Expand long-term care and reintegration support and monitor and assess outcomes of post-NRM support.
  • Ensure all potential victims, including individuals subject to immigration control, are consistently screened for trafficking indicators and referred to services.
  • Expand nationwide the ICTG program and train more social workers and care providers to better safeguard child victims.
  • Ensure victims are not penalized for unlawful acts, including immigration violations, traffickers compelled them to commit. 
  • Ensure convicted traffickers are sentenced to significant prison terms to adequately deter trafficking.
  • Vigorously prosecute and convict suspected traffickers, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Establish a database on investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and prison sentence data across the UK, categorized by type of trafficking.
  • Provide a clear route to residency for foreign victims and ensure potential foreign victims who are referred into the NRM can work.
  • Improve victims’ ability to access court-ordered restitution in criminal cases and compensation through civil proceedings. 
  • Ensure the statutory definition of trafficking under the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) and similar provisions in Northern Ireland do not require movement of the victim as an element of the crime.
  • Provide a trafficking-specific long-term alternative for foreign victims at risk if returned to their home country.

The government increased prosecution efforts. The 2015 MSA, applicable to England and Wales, and similar statutes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, criminalized sex trafficking 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. Inconsistent with international law, the laws in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland required the element of movement of a victim in the definition of “trafficking.” However, these jurisdictions criminalized “slavery and servitude, and forced or compulsory labour” in other provisions of their law, which could be utilized to prosecute trafficking crimes that did not involve victim movement. Scotland, by contrast, did not require victim movement in the definition of trafficking.

In August 2021, there were at least 3,335 active law enforcement investigations of suspected trafficking crimes, compared with 1,845 in June 2020. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecuted 466 defendants on trafficking charges, a significant increase from 267 defendants prosecuted in 2020. Courts convicted 332 traffickers in 2021, a significant increase from 197 convictions in 2020. CPS data did not differentiate between sex and labor trafficking, nor did the government provide data on the range of sentences of convicted traffickers or percentage of convicted traffickers serving prison time. In August 2021, the Sentencing Council published new sentencing guidelines—applicable to England and Wales—for trafficking crimes; judges and magistrates were advised to issue sentences of up to 18 years to traffickers in a leading role who expect substantial financial gains and who expose victims to an extremely high risk of death. Due to pandemic restrictions in 2020, courts experienced a backlog of more than 54,000 cases—including trafficking cases—in England and Wales by January 2021. In September 2021, media reported courts convicted three labor traffickers for exploiting up to 400 victims, in what was reported to be the UK’s largest human trafficking prosecution to date. Law enforcement coordinated with financial institutions through the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce to assist human trafficking investigations. Through the National Crime Agency-led Project AIDANT, UK law enforcement authorities participated in awareness-raising activities and anti-trafficking operations, including operations focused on labor exploitation and domestic servitude, child trafficking, and sexual exploitation. In June 2021, law enforcement arrested 38 suspected traffickers and identified 99 potential victims in a Project AIDANT operation targeting child traffickers.

Scottish authorities prosecuted 23 suspected traffickers (10 for sex trafficking and 13 for unspecified forms of trafficking) under the Scotland Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act (2015) between April 2021 and March 2022. Scottish authorities did not convict any traffickers during this period, compared with five convictions between April 2019 and March 2020, the most recent period for which data was available. Police Scotland had a specialized anti-trafficking unit to coordinate information and intelligence and work with law enforcement agencies across Europe to investigate trafficking cases. Due to the pandemic, courts in Scotland operated at reduced capacity and continued to face a backlog of cases from 2020. In 2021, authorities in Northern Ireland conducted 370 trafficking-related investigations. Northern Irish authorities prosecuted six suspected traffickers (five in 2020) and convicted one trafficker (zero in 2020). In March 2022, media reported the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) arrested a suspected trafficker for exploiting foreign nationals for labor on fishing vessels. Observers noted the greatest impediment to the timely prosecution of alleged traffickers in Northern Ireland remained inherent delays in the legal system, often taking two or more years from the time of initial arrest to conviction.

The government provided a wide variety of anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and first responders. The Home Office continued funding the Modern Slavery and Organized Immigration Crime Programme with an additional £1.4 million ($1.89 million) to support the police in combating trafficking and organized immigration crime. The government trained trafficking victim liaison officers to work with trafficking victims and victims of other serious crimes; these officers were trained to recognize trafficking indicators and refer potential victims into the NRM. The government trained law enforcement and prosecutors on the MSA’s statutory defence for trafficking victims who were compelled by traffickers to commit unlawful acts. In May 2021, the government published a response to an official NGO complaint that the current police response resulted in victims not engaging with the police or supporting trafficking investigations and prosecutions; the response included several recommendations, including increased training for law enforcement and commissioning research into how victims’ experiences with law enforcement can be improved. The PSNI collaborated with an NGO to download a smartphone application on all officers’ mobile devices to support them in recognizing trafficking indicators. In coordination with the interagency and civil society, Police Scotland published a First Responder NRM Toolkit to support first responders and enable improved victim engagement and trauma-informed information gathering from victims. Observers reported training for criminal justice officials had improved but was still insufficient, particularly training on the non-punishment of victims and a trauma-informed approach.

The UK participated in 17 Joint Investigation Teams with EU Member States and EUROPOL, including a complex sex trafficking investigation targeting a Romanian organized criminal group operating in Scotland, England, and Romania and resulting in the arrest of approximately 27 Romanian nationals and the identification of more than 30 trafficking victims throughout Europe. The government convicted members of an international organized criminal group in 2021, including five Slovak nationals who committed trafficking crimes in Slovakia and the UK, with prison sentences ranging from four to eight years. Northern Irish authorities cooperated closely with Irish counterparts on law enforcement efforts across the island of Ireland. The supreme court’s final decision on a 2019 ruling by the Employment Tribunal that diplomatic immunity did not protect against trafficking charges remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes.

The government demonstrated mixed protection efforts; although the government identified significantly more victims and expanded the ICTG program for children, it created a dual system for identifying victims among individuals who lacked secure immigration status and introduced legislation that experts widely believed would hinder identification and protection efforts. Through the NRM, authorities referred 12,727 potential trafficking victims for care nationwide in 2021, an increase from 10,613 in 2020. The Home Office maintained a detailed online database with disaggregated information, including source of referral, nationality, jurisdiction handling the referral, and type of trafficking. Of the referred victims, 77 percent were male, and 23 percent were female. Authorities identified 5,468 children, an increase from 4,946 in 2020. Authorities flagged 2,053 referrals (an increase from 1,544 in 2020) as “county lines” referrals, cases in which children were coerced to transport illegal drugs from one area to another, the majority (1,551) of these referrals were boys. The majority of identified victims were UK citizens (3,952), followed by Albanian (2,511) and Vietnamese (991) nationals. Labor trafficking, including forced criminality, was the most common form of exploitation of adults and children. In Scotland, 419 potential victims were referred to the NRM, an increase from 387 in 2020. In Northern Ireland, officials reported a significant increase in the number of potential victims referred to the NRM from 128 in 2020 to 363 in 2021. In Wales, 479 potential victims were referred to the NRM, an increase from 384 in 2020.

The NRM was the framework for identifying and providing care and support for victims. First responders, such as police, Border Force, local authorities, and NGOs, continued to refer potential victims into the NRM. The Home Office’s Single Competent Authority (SCA) handled most NRM referrals and ensured victims continued to receive support. After a “reasonable grounds” decision that an individual may be a trafficking victim, adult victims awaiting a “conclusive grounds” decision received a recovery and reflection period during which they could access support and protection measures; victims received support for at least 45 calendar days or up to the point a “conclusive grounds” decision was made, whichever was longer. If authorities recognized an individual as a victim per the “conclusive grounds” determination, they guaranteed the victim a minimum of 45 additional days of support; the government utilized a recovery needs assessment to tailor ongoing support to the victim’s specific recovery needs and to determine the point at which a victim would exit the support services under the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC). Observers expressed concern that the recovery needs assessment was too restrictive and placed the burden of documenting ongoing needs on survivors. After a confirmed victim transitioned out of MSVCC support, they could access assistance through the “reach-in service,” a post-NRM service that offered transitional support, including provision of information and assistance to housing, health care, translation, employment, and support with submitting paperwork. In November 2021, the government created the Immigration Enforcement Competent Authority (IECA) to make reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds decisions in cases involving adults subject to immigration control, including adults in deportation proceedings and individuals served a notice of intent of potential inadmissibility of an asylum claim. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC) and NGOs strongly criticized the creation of the IECA and the return to a dual system approach for identifying victims, underscoring that many victims who lacked secure immigration status may not be identified or protected and would subsequently fear coming forward to seek support; observers noted the government did not consult with civil society or the survivor community prior to making this change. The government sent a Nationality and Borders bill to parliament with the stated intent to clarify in law the UK’s international obligations and entitlements for victims. Experts widely and strongly criticized the bill for increasing the burden of proof for victim identification and creating impediments regarding disclosure of status; conflating human trafficking with immigration; and disqualifying some victims, including children, who were compelled by traffickers to commit unlawful acts. UN Special Rapporteurs urged the government to reverse the bill’s proposed measures and underscored the bill would seriously undermine the protection of trafficking victims. In Northern Ireland, potential victims received support for a minimum of 45 days while authorities reviewed their cases, and in Scotland, potential victims received support for 90 days or until authorities made a conclusive grounds decision, whichever came first. Support was also available for longer than 90 days in some circumstances. The Wales Anti-Slavery Leadership Group’s “Survivor Care Pathway” provided a long-term post-NRM individualized plan for survivors.

Observers called on the government to improve victim screening measures and allow for more NGOs to be designated as first responder organizations (FROs), noting that only 12 NGOs held this status and could refer potential victims into the NRM. FROs were responsible for training first responders in their organization. In 2021, the government created a forum of first responder representatives to communicate with the Home Office and ensure that FROs had the tools and guidance to identify victims as efficiently as possible. In July 2021, the Home Office launched an e-learning tool for first responders focused on the vulnerabilities of child victims. The government updated guidance for housing authority staff to improve victim identification and support for potential victims experiencing homelessness. Observers noted that the quality of information provided to victims on their rights varied widely among first responders and interpretation and translation services were not fully available in practice at all stages of the victim support process. Experts also expressed concern victims often faced long wait times to receive a conclusive grounds determination under the NRM and that the current system did not adequately ensure victims exiting the system had a plan for sustainable independence, particularly foreign victims who may not be allowed to work, putting them at greater risk of re-trafficking. According to the Home Office, of the 12,727 NRM referrals during 2021, 80 percent (10,214) were awaiting conclusive grounds determinations at the end of the year. To reduce wait times, the government initiated a recruitment process for more than 200 new employees for the SCA throughout 2021.

The government continued implementing a five-year contract, valued at more than £300 million ($405.41 million), with the anti-trafficking NGO sector to coordinate the provision of care for adult victims in England and Wales under the NRM. Support services included financial support to meet essential living needs and assist with social, psychological, and physical recovery, access to a dedicated support worker to assist victims in accessing support services such as health care and legal aid, and safehouse accommodation where necessary. Observers expressed concern that consistent access to legal aid remained a challenge for many trafficking victims, undermining protection efforts. Moreover, GRETA expressed concern that potential victims were not provided legal aid prior to entering the NRM, preventing potential victims from receiving advice that would allow them to make informed choices, including whether to enter the NRM. An NGO noted that accommodation was provided according to availability rather than need and there was limited support available for victims with complex needs. An NGO observed many female trafficking victims were not offered safe house accommodations but were rather placed in unsafe asylum housing. The IASC further urged the government to increase efforts to provide safe mainstream accommodation for victims after they exit a safe house. Northern Ireland increased its budget from £350,000 ($472,970) for the 2020-2021 fiscal year to £600,000 ($810,810) for the 2021-2022 fiscal year for contracted support services by two local NGOs. The Northern Ireland Assembly considered legislation that would enshrine existing support and assistance for trafficking victims into law; the legislation was pending at the end of the reporting period. The Scottish Government provided £1.4 million ($1.89 million) in 2021-2022 funding to the two NGOs providing victim protection and support. The Scottish Government continued to fund the Scottish Guardianship Service to provide additional legal and practical support to unaccompanied children and victims of trafficking. To avoid re-traumatization, authorities encouraged police to use intelligence-led investigations, pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable victims, and allowed victims to apply for reporting restrictions and other measures to maintain anonymity. In 2021, the Home Office funded six projects to assist law enforcement and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) in improving support measures for victims; these projects included the provision of specialist support for victims to navigate the criminal justice process, specialist advice for investigators, temporary accommodation for victims upon identification, and translated information explaining criminal justice processes and support available to victims. Additionally, the Home Office commissioned independent research of three NGO models of support for victims navigating the criminal justice process; the government reported the results will be published in 2022. In 2021, Police Scotland seconded an NGO representative to the National Human Trafficking Unit to improve victim support.

Children received care through children’s services offices in local jurisdictions; social workers worked with potential child victims to assess needs and create a care plan that included health, legal, education, and accommodation support. In May 2021, the government expanded the ICTG program to cover eleven additional geographical areas; the program covered two thirds of local authorities across England and Wales by the end of the reporting period. ICTG guardians provided an additional source of advice, support, and advocacy for child trafficking victims. Whereas ICTG direct workers provided direct support to children without a parental figure, ICTG Regional Practice Coordinators (RPCs) worked with social workers who supported children with a parental figure. NGOs expressed concern children assigned an RPC did not receive the full benefits of an ICTG direct worker who could advocate on their behalf. The government tested in various locations three of the MSA review committee’s recommendations for improving the ICTG program by: removing the 18-month limit for ICTG support, enabling children who need it to continue to receive ICTG support upon reaching the age of 18, and allowing children who have a parental figure to access one-to-one support where there is an exceptional need. In addition, the MSA review committee also called on the government to implement the ICTG system nationally and require police to track cases of missing children until they are located, regardless of timeframe. NGOs highlighted concerns about the difficulty of safeguarding children who the government relocated away from their home to parts of the country where services are available; criminal gangs actively targeted vulnerable children who are taken out of their communities and run away or go missing. Observers noted unaccompanied migrant children were particularly vulnerable to trafficking and many of these children went missing after their arrival in the UK. Media reported some unaccompanied migrant children were housed in hotels and provided limited assistance and supervision. The government developed Operation Innerste in England and Wales to improve the safeguarding response to unaccompanied migrant children across England and Wales. The Home Office conducted a pilot program to devolve NRM decision-making for children to local authorities. The Scottish Government created a strategic working group to support Glasgow City Council, one of 10 pilot sites throughout the UK, and operational partners with program implementation. Scotland and Northern Ireland required the appointment of independent legal guardians for child trafficking victims and trained the guardians on the support services available.

The government did not automatically grant foreign victims legal status in the UK; authorities reviewed requests for permission to remain in the UK outside the immigration rules, known as “discretionary leave,” on a case-by-case basis. Discretionary leave decisions were not linked to an individual’s status as a confirmed trafficking victim but were judged on individual circumstances. As of June 2021, European Economic Area (EEA) citizens were subject to immigration control and most trafficking victims from EEA countries were required to apply for discretionary leave to remain in the UK. Foreign victims who were granted a reflection period could not be removed from the UK during that period. Observers reported discretionary leave was only issued in a minority of cases and then often only for 12 months. Media reported that the government granted discretionary leave to only 7 percent of confirmed trafficking victims who requested it from April 2016 to June 2021. Observers further noted that foreign victims without legal status were unable to work until they received a positive conclusive grounds decision which could entitle them to discretionary leave. In October 2021, the High Court ruled that the Home Office’s failure to grant discretionary leave to a trafficking victim under the NRM was unlawful because it did not consider whether the victim needed to stay in the country to pursue an asylum claim based on fear of re-trafficking. NGOs continued to express concern some foreign victims may have declined to enter the NRM out of fear of deportation upon exiting the system.

Victims had a statutory defense in England and Wales for many crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; the defense did not apply to the most serious crimes, such as sexual offenses or offenses involving serious violence. In these cases, the CPS had to consider whether it was in the public interest to prosecute the trafficking victim. GRETA concluded the statutory defense did not apply to more than one hundred offenses of varying degrees of seriousness, leading to a too narrow interpretation of the non-punishment principle. Moreover, observers expressed concern that many criminal defense lawyers did not have sufficient knowledge of trafficking and the non-punishment principle; GRETA noted that investigators, prosecutors and judges were insufficiently trained on this issue and that the burden of proof required of victims substantially hindered the use of the statutory defense. According to NGOs, authorities detained at least 2,914 potential victims of trafficking for immigration violations between January 2019 and September 2020. Observers expressed concern the government stripped citizenship from British citizens who went to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS without screening them for indicators of trafficking, despite indications some of them may have been victims of trafficking. In February 2022, a parliamentary group published a report stating there was “compelling evidence” that some British women and children currently detained in Syria were trafficking victims and claimed the government did not screen these individuals for trafficking indicators. Observers in Scotland noted an increase in the proportion of criminally exploited children who were charged with crimes and underscored that more trafficking victims faced criminal justice processes than traffickers. The courts allowed victims to testify by video, behind a screen, or with the public removed from the courtroom during hearings. Courts could grant restitution, but only after conviction of the trafficker and if satisfied that the defendant had the means to pay. However, NGOs noted courts infrequently granted restitution, and although victims could apply for compensation, this remedy was difficult to access given the small number of legal aid providers available to file such claims. During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, courts granted a total of £91,052 ($123,040) in compensation to trafficking victims in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Moreover, traffickers could appeal or contest a compensation order and observers noted traffickers often moved assets, meaning that awards were often not paid in practice. In July 2021, the supreme court determined that trafficking victims who have unexpired convictions that are still part of the individual’s criminal record are not entitled to seek compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. GRETA further noted that free legal assistance was not provided in practice to victims seeking compensation under this scheme in England and Wales in spite of a complex compensation procedure and the requirement that victims prove they have suffered a physical or psychiatric injury as a direct result of a violent crime in order to receive an award; the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority could withhold or reduce compensation if the victim did not report the circumstances of the injury to the police and could not offer a reasonable explanation for not doing so, did not cooperate with law enforcement, or had a criminal conviction.

The government increased prevention efforts. The Home Office was responsible for coordinating the government’s anti-trafficking prevention and protection efforts. The Home Office published its 2021 annual report in October, with detailed data on anti-trafficking efforts across the UK as well as an outline of achievements and remaining challenges to fully implement the MSA. The UK government conducted a review of the 2014 Modern Slavery Strategy, to be completed in 2022; the Home Office engaged with a range of actors, including the interagency, business, academia, civil society, and the survivor community to develop the new strategy. The IASC encouraged good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of trafficking crimes as well as the identification of victims. In 2021, Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice created a Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Branch, responsible for developing the government’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Strategy; in May 2021, Northern Ireland released its fourth annual strategy. In January 2022, Scotland published its fourth annual Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy progress report, developed with survivor input.

The government continued to support the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre through a five-year £10 million ($13.51 million) investment through the 2023-2024 fiscal year to better understand how to combat trafficking and to develop research to inform policy choices. The center published policy briefs on trafficking and international development and the effectiveness of forced labor bans, in addition to funding a research project assessing potential interventions for trafficking prevention in the UK and funding five research projects focused on long-term survivor outcomes and recovery. Notably, one research project included survivors of trafficking in research design, data collection, and analysis. The Scottish Government commissioned a fifth annual public awareness study to explore the public’s understanding of human trafficking, noting a slight decrease in awareness compared with 2020 results. Northern Ireland used the results of a PSNI Modern Slavey Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU)-commissioned academic research project exploring the use of social media in offering support to potential victims and in raising awareness about the MSHTU to design a social media strategy for the UK’s October 2021 Anti-Slavery Day.

The government funded a specialist helpline which provided advice and support to children and adults on “county lines,” criminal exploitation, and gangs. The government conducted awareness campaigns across the UK with a wide range of partners. In November 2021, the Home Office launched the Modern Slavery Prevention Fund to support organizations and key practitioners in delivering targeted prevention activities and to build evidence of effective interventions; the government funded seven projects, including projects focused on communication and awareness raising campaigns, educational initiatives, promotion of industry standards, tackling slavery in supply chains, and data analysis. Police Scotland launched a media campaign encouraging businesses to examine recruitment and supply chains. The government launched a Responsible Car Wash Scheme, a voluntary licensing scheme that required the operator to consent to certain measures, including the prevention of worker exploitation and the provision of safe and hygienic working conditions; in June 2021, the government awarded accreditation to two car wash operators. In August 2021, a GLAA-led case resulted in the conviction of a trafficker; the court sentenced the man to six years’ imprisonment and issued a 10-year Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order (STPO), allowing the court to impose restrictions to prevent the trafficker from committing further trafficking crimes upon release; this was the first time the GLAA used an STPO. In response to continued concern from NGOs about the garment industry’s use of forced labor in Leicester, England, a government taskforce continued investigating apparel companies; the taskforce has visited more than 300 locations to date. In June 2021, the government announced it would establish a new consolidated labor protection watchdog to improve enforcement through better coordination and intelligence sharing.

Foreign overseas domestic workers (ODW) could legally change employers during the remaining six-month period of their visa. Observers criticized the short-term nature of the visa, noting that workers struggled to change employment in the visa’s short time frame, leading to the workers’ heightened vulnerability to trafficking. Workers on the ODW visa identified as trafficking victims could apply for a two-year visa as a domestic worker, although NGOs contended workers who had suffered abuse would be unlikely to want to return to the same sector. NGOs urged the government to adopt reforms to the ODW visa, particularly in light of the heightened exploitation overseas domestic workers faced as a result of the pandemic. Observers also expressed concern about the government’s transit visa scheme for workers in the fishing industry, noting the inability to change vessels or leave the vessel without violating the terms of the visa left workers at risk of labor rights abuses and labor trafficking. In May 2021, UN Rapporteurs called on the government to allow migrant workers the right to change employers at any given time and for any reason and the ability to apply for a visa extension. In December 2021, the government published an evaluation of the seasonal workers pilot for non-EU migrants, noting several areas of concern regarding the welfare and rights of migrants. NGOs urged reform of the program, noting it left migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation; according to an NGO study, many of the workers accrued large debts and were limited in their ability to change employers. Moreover, NGOs expressed concern the government’s strict immigration policies, which criminalized the act of working while undocumented, continued to prevent trafficking victims from seeking help. Observers noted the absence of secure reporting options for undocumented individuals to come forward as victims of crime undermined the government’s identification and protection efforts.

The government continued to require organizations with annual turnover exceeding £36 million ($48.65 million) to publish an annual statement on the government’s modern slavery statement registry detailing efforts to ensure its operations and supply chains were free of human trafficking, although observers noted the MSA did not include a mechanism to ensure compliance. In November 2021, the government published a progress report outlining the government’s efforts to meet the goals set out in the 2020-2021 UK Government Modern Slavery Statement, and ministerial government departments published their first annual modern slavery statements outlining measures they took to prevent trafficking in their operations and supply chains. In July 2021, the government launched a virtual course for public sector commercial employees on ways to identify and mitigate human trafficking risks throughout the commercial lifecycle. The government commissioned the development of tailored guidance for buyers and suppliers of personal protective equipment to prevent human trafficking in supply chains. The Welsh Government published for consultation draft legislation seeking to ensure socially responsible public procurement in Wales, including consideration of fair labor standards. During its G7 Presidency, the government secured commitments to address forced labor in global supply chains. The government continued efforts under its national action plan on combating international child sex tourism. The government criminalized soliciting a sex trafficking victim. In June 2021, the Scottish Government published a response to Scotland’s first national consultation on the government’s future approach to combating demand for commercial sex; the government created a working group to develop a concept to tackle this issue.

The government funded a wide range of anti-trafficking programs globally, including continued implementation of programs under the £33.5 million ($45.27 million) Modern Slavery Fund (MSF), of which the government committed more than £4 million ($5.41 million) to a range of anti-trafficking efforts in fiscal year 2021-2022, particularly in Albania, Nigeria, and Vietnam. In Nigeria, the MSF provided embedded capacity-building support to Nigerian law enforcement through a peer mentoring program, improving authorities’ ability to conduct active investigations. To date, the government reported the MSF provided direct assistance to more than 2,500 victims of trafficking, contributed to 35 anti-trafficking policies in 14 countries, and delivered more than 30 “evidence products” helping to advance collective understanding of human trafficking. Through the Modern Slavery Innovation Fund, the government funded projects to improve workers’ rights in Mauritius and Malaysia; support victims in India; tackle stigma as a driver of trafficking in Ethiopia and Indonesia; and strengthen the global evidence base. In 2021, the government committed £235,000 ($317,570) in funding for Romania to build law enforcement capacity, enable safe reporting of cases, and strengthen coordination between the two countries; the government additionally supported Romanian government and civil society efforts to prevent trafficking and protect victims. In April 2022, the UK embassy in Poland reconvened a human trafficking working group with Polish law enforcement and judicial sector representatives after a two-year hiatus; initially created to address the exploitation of Polish nationals in the UK, the working group was reconstituted to address the refugee crisis resulting from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and associated trafficking risks. The UK’s Commonwealth Parliamentary Association worked with Commonwealth countries to pass human trafficking legislation, using a tailored approach suited to each country’s needs and capacity. Observers reported many of the government’s global anti-trafficking aid programs did not demonstrate direct impact in reducing the prevalence of trafficking and did not adequately include monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. The government funded UNODC’s Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT) to produce a strategic mapping exercise of the activities, mandates, and partnerships of ICAT members to inform the development of multilateral strategies and capacity-building activities. The government also partnered with the United States, Liechtenstein, Canada, and others to secure language in a UN resolution to ensure trafficking prevention measures are included in UN procurement.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the UK, and traffickers exploit victims from the UK abroad. Although the government reported 12,727 potential victims came through the NRM in 2021, one NGO estimates the actual number of victims in the UK is closer to 100,000. The UK, Albania, and Vietnam are the leading nationalities of potential victims referred into the NRM. Thirty-one percent of potential victims assert their exploitation occurred entirely outside of the UK. Labor trafficking, including forced criminality, is the most common form of exploitation among adults and children. Migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats are vulnerable to exploitation; more than 28,300 migrants crossed the channel in 2021, many of whom were unaccompanied children. Nearly half of all victims identified are children. Children in the care system and unaccompanied migrant children are particularly at risk of trafficking. Gangs force children to act as drug couriers from larger cities into rural areas across the UK. Traffickers force adults and children to work in agriculture, cannabis cultivation, construction, food processing, factories, domestic service, nail salons, food services, the hospitality industry, car washes, food supply industry, and warehousing, as well as on fishing boats. Labor traffickers target adults with disabilities and adults from low socio-economic backgrounds. Traffickers increasingly recruit and exploit sex trafficking victims, predominantly from Eastern Europe, through social media and online platforms. Following Brexit, EEA citizens who had not gained legal status in the UK were at increased risk of trafficking. Thousands of Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children who are fleeing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, have crossed the UK border seeking sanctuary and are vulnerable to trafficking. In Scotland, most victims are from Vietnam with many forced to work in agriculture, cannabis farms, and nail salons. In Northern Ireland, there are cases of perpetrators forcing victims into shoplifting and the cultivation and distribution of illicit drugs; paramilitary groups exploit children for criminal purposes. Young women and girls from Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania, including ethnic Roma, remain vulnerable to sex trafficking in Northern Ireland.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future