modern slavery: how to spot forced labour

posted on July 2019 by leanne bates, marketing executive


Slavery is anything but a thing of the past. In fact, it’s estimated that modern slavery affects a staggering 40 million people worldwide, 13,000 of which are said to live right here in the UK.

A main form of modern slavery is forced labour, meaning individuals are forced to work against their will and under the threat of punishment. Astonishingly, there are around 21 million victims of forced labour globally, many of which are suffering the likes of physical and mental abuse, unpaid wages and unsafe working conditions.

Who is affected by forced labour?

While forced labour occurs in many industries, the construction and industrial sectors are regarded as two of the most-high risk in the UK. This is because roles within these sectors are often temporary and are filled by vulnerable workers who don’t know their employment rights and therefore can easily be taken advantage of.

It’s also common for migrant workers to fall victim to forced labour. In fact, it isn’t rare for a migrant worker to be falsely promised a job whilst living in their home country, to then find out the job either doesn’t exist or is in extremely poor working conditions when they arrive in the UK.

Whether you’re an employer, a team member or simply a concerned citizen, it’s crucial that you know what to look out for when spotting the signs of modern slavery. Here’s a few things that should ring alarm bells:

Restricted movement
Victims movements and lifestyle will appear strict and controlled. They’ll be on a tight schedule, not permitted to leave their homes at certain times or unable to involve themselves in out of work social activities.

Reluctant to interact
Victims of slavery will be anxious, hesitant to speak with others, cautious and uneasy. They’ll probably be very quiet and keep themselves to themselves. You might find that they don’t have a voice of their own because they’re so used to other people doing the talking for them. 

Few personal belongings

Victims may have no, or very few, personal belongings. They usually turn up to work with no food or money to buy their lunch, so they’ll sit with a glass of water and nothing else.

What’s more, workers might not be able to present important identity documents, especially if they’ve been retained by somebody else. Offenders tend to confiscate the likes of passports and national insurance numbers as a way of coercing their victims into thinking a job is legitimate. They might not be able to tell you their home address either.

What you can do

It’s crucial that we do everything we can to tackle modern slavery, and there are many actions you can take if you suspect someone to be a victim. If you’re an employer, make sure you’ve got all the correct information before hiring them, and keep an eye on who’s dropping them off in the morning and picking them back up on a night. You’d be right to be concerned if they’re overseen by a group of people or a suspicious individual.

We’ve recently become an official member of Unseen’s #BeSeenBeHeard campaign – a fantastic initiative aimed at stopping modern slavery once and for all. You can find out more information about the campaign here, and if you think someone is a victim, please call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.