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Trafficking in Persons has been defined by the United Nations General Assembly as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.

In December 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/68/192 which designated 30 July as World Day against Trafficking in Persons. This was in response to the “need for raising awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights”.

Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking—whether as a country of origin, transit, or destination for victims.  The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has published figures on human trafficking which cover 136 countries at global, regional and national levels. The most recent figures showed that 63,251 victims of human trafficking were detected in 106 countries and territories between 2012 and 2014.  In 2014, 17,752 victims were detected in 85 countries for which sex and age were reported. Of these detected victims, adult women and girls comprised 71 percent. In September 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations agreed the UN Sustainable Development Agenda up to 2030—the goals and targets which will stimulate action in areas of “critical importance for humanity and the planet” up to 2030. The new agenda included targets which called explicitly for the elimination of human trafficking. 

In 2015, the Coalition Government, led by David Cameron, passed the Modern Slavery Act, the first piece of legislation of its kind in the world. The Act consolidated existing offences of slavery and human trafficking in UK law and increased the penalties for these offences. It also provided for new preventative orders for modern slavery offenders and those who pose a risk of committing an offence, created new maritime enforcement powers, and introduced measures to support and protect victims of human trafficking. In addition, the Act required large businesses to report on the steps they have taken to ensure slavery is absent from supply chains. The Act also created the role of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner whose remit was hoped to promote good practice and to drive improvements to the UK and the global response to modern slavery crimes. An independent review by barrister Caroline Haughey of how well the criminal justice provisions in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 had been implemented was published in July 2016. Stand-out issues included “patchy and sometimes absent” training for police officers, investigators and prosecutors, and a lack of a structured approach in operational agencies to identify, investigate, prosecute and prevent slavery.

On 30 April 2017, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee published a report which focussed on victims of human slavery.  Among its’ recommendations, the Committee urged that the Department for Work and Pensions undertake an urgent review of the benefit support available to victims who assist the police with investigations. It also argued that financial support for those victims should be available as soon as the victim has received a positive Conclusive Grounds decision (ie conclusive confirmation as a victim of slavery).  In addition, the Committee urged that victims of modern slavery should be given at least one year leave to remain, with a personal plan for their recovery “which should act as a social passport to support for at least the 12 month period” of discretionary leave.

The Home Office has estimated that in 2013 there were between 10,000—13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK. On 29 June 2017 the National Crime Agency (NCA) stated that the 2013 figures provided by the Home Office remained “the most robust quantitative assessment available” for figures on modern slavery in the UK. The NCA collects data for figures for potential victims of human trafficking, through the National Referral Mechanism. NRM data for 2016 showed that there were 3,805 potential victims of human trafficking in the UK—a 17 percent increase from 2015. The 3,805 referrals to the NRM comprised: 1,936 females (51 percent) of which 1,209 claimed their exploitation type was sexual exploitation; 1,864 males (48 percent) of which 1,325 claimed their exploitation type as labour exploitation; five were recorded as transgender (less than one percent). The NCA has explained that the “true scale of modern slavery and human trafficking within the UK is unknown” but judged that, in terms of victim and offender numbers as well as incidence rate, it is “likely increasing steadily”.  


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