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Leading the UK's fight to cut serious and organised crime

Modern slavery and human trafficking

Thousands of people across the UK are being held in squalor and undertaking forced labour. Some may be fleeing war zones, others may have financial problems, but all find dream turns to nightmare as their life descends into fear, debt and drudgery in exhausting, ill-paid, dangerous and degrading work, with escape impossible, forbidden or punished. Combating modern slavery and human trafficking is one of our highest priorities. We're working with partners in the UK and around the world to pursue offenders and safeguard victims.

Could you spot the signs of modern slavery?

The nature of the threat

Although it is impossible to know exact numbers of victims, we do know that modern slavery has been on the increase.  Many victims work in the construction industry, in agriculture, in the sex industry, and in places like nail bars, car washes, and cannabis farms. Children are found working in all of these situations, as well as in sexual slavery.

Many victims have been trafficked from overseas – frequently from eastern Europe, south east Asia, and Africa – and their exploitation often begins en route.  British victims tend to have fallen on difficult times, making them vulnerable to the lure of well-paid work complete with decent accommodation, which proves a cruel lie. 

Most victims are ‘recruited’ in person, although some who find themselves trapped in the sex industry have been ensnared through online job adverts and social media websites. In cases of sexual exploitation, adult services websites often unwittingly play a key role in expanding offenders’ client bases.

In some cases victims are threatened and can suffer extreme violence as the criminals exert control. Many have their identity documents confiscated and have most of their earnings withheld as 'payment' for living costs or for their journey to the UK.

Although some larger organised crime groups are involved, people are also trafficked by looser collaborating networks often involved in additional forms of serious criminality, including drugs and firearms trafficking.

Our response

Eradicating modern slavery and human trafficking is one of our highest priorities. We work with partners in the UK and around the world to pursue offenders, safeguard victims and to prevent vulnerable people in source countries from becoming victims. Our efforts against modern slavery and human trafficking are led by our Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU).

Targeting offenders

We lead our own investigations into modern slavery, often pioneering innovative methods to disrupt traffickers and make it difficult for them to operate. We share tactics and intelligence in collaboration with partners – police forces, regional organised crime units and international law enforcement.

We advise partners on:

  • the disruption and prosecution of identified offenders

  • best evidence and operational practice

  • victim care

Preventing modern slavery and human trafficking 

It looks likely that the number of victims of modern slavery globally will continue to rise over the coming years. It is vital that we educate potential victims about the risks, how to avoid becoming a victim, and what to do if they are being exploited. We run communications campaigns, both within the UK and in the most common source countries.

We also raise awareness amongst the wider population about how to spot the signs – this year we organised a UK-wide travelling exhibition. The more people who can recognise and report modern slavery the more effectively we can safeguard victims and bring the traffickers to justice.

Reporting modern slavery

Slavery may be closer to you than you think. There could be victims of exploitation working in domestic servitude or forced labour on your street. 

If you suspect modern slavery, report it to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or the police on 101. In an emergency always call 999. Don't leave it to someone else. Your information could save a life.

National Referral Mechanism

The National Referral Mechanism is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support.

On 29 April 2019 the Home Office assumed responsibility for all areas of the NRM, including referrals, decision making and data collection.

Prior to that date the NCA was responsible for collecting data on the NRM, and that data can still be found here. For statistics prior to 2017, please visit the National Archive.


Latest news on this threat

Josephine Iyamu Custody

A London-based nurse currently serving an 18-year prison term for trafficking Nigerian women to Europe and forcing them into sex work has been ordered to hand over almost £184,000.

NCA and police jackets

Around 100 potential victims have been identified and 38 people arrested following a week long law enforcement crackdown targeting child traffickers.

NCA logo on a car

The National Crime Agency can confirm that it has received information regarding allegations of modern slavery and exploitation in the textile industry in Leicester.

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