The UK's 2020 annual report on modern slavery finds a 59% yearly increase in recorded offences and an increase in prosecutions.

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A complex, harmful and mainly hidden problem

Yesterday (19 October 2020) the government published its 2020 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery. The report which covers all the home nations acknowledges that modern slavery is a complex, harmful, and largely hidden crime and says that improving evidence about the scale and nature of modern slavery is a priority for the Government.

This blog post shares some of the headline facts and figures.

Prevalence

Traditional means of measuring crime (victimisation surveys or police records) are not very good at measuring the prevalence of this complex and largely hidden crime whose victims are often too traumatised to report their exploitation or may not self-identify as victims. The report cites a Centre for Social Justice report published earlier this year which estimates that there were at least 100,000 UK victims of modern slavery in 2017. It also includes statistics about he number of referrals to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which provides a good indication of the scale of known victims in the UK but is not a good estimate of overall prevalence. In 2019, 10,627 potential victims were referred to the NRM (91% were sent to police forces in England, 5% to Police Scotland, 3% to Welsh police forces and <1% to the Police Service of Northern Ireland), a 52% increase from the 6,986 referrals in 2018.

In the year to March 2020, there were 7,779 modern slavery crimes recorded by the police, a 59% increase from 4,897 in the year to March 2019.  The force recording most modern slavery crimes was the Metropolitan Police, accounting for 30% (2,334) of all crimes. This was followed by West Midlands Police (6%; 484) and West Yorkshire Police (6%; 457).

Prosecutions

Last year the police in England and Wales referred 322 defendants investigated for modern slavery offences to the CPS, of whom 239 have so far been charged. The number of completed “flagged modern
slavery prosecutions” increased from 294 to 349; this includes defendants prosecuted for a Modern
Slavery Act offence as well as cases of conspiracy to commit an offence or other serious criminal
offences. The conviction rate also increased to 71.9% in 2019, an increase from 65% in the previous year. However, you can see from the table below that the number of referrals and prosecutions for last year were actually smaller than in 2017.

Interventions

The report also gives information about a range of initiatives led by the National Crime Agency to try to tackle modern slavery. Project AIDANT, the series of NCA-led operational intensifications, brings together resources from the NCA, Border Force, Immigration Enforcement, HMRC, the GLAA and UK police forces to deliver intensified operational activity focused on specific thematic areas.

Between 2017 and 2019 the NCA coordinated UK law enforcement agencies to deliver 18 phases of
Project AIDANT operational activity across the UK – and some cases with international partners –
tackling different manifestations of the threat with varying operational focuses. During this time,
Project AIDANT resulted in over 770 arrests, and safeguarding over 1,220 potential victims. In May
2020, an evaluation of the AIDANT phases 1 -15 (February 2017 – January 2019) was produced for
the purpose of highlighting key learning points, good news stories and recommendations for future activity, all of which were fed into the planning of Project AIDANT in 2020.
Between April 2019 and March 2020, the following Project AIDANT phases took place:

  • Labour Exploitation
  • Child Exploitation
  • Sexual Exploitation
  • Ports and Borders
  • Adult Service Websites

The latest series of intensifications focussed on the food packaging and processing, the shellfish
industry and the textiles and garment sector and involved the police and other law enforcement
partners engaging in intelligence development activity across these sectors in order to identify the
extent of exploitation and safeguard potential victims in these sectors, whilst raising public awareness.

Prevention

Last Autumn the Government opened a new Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre. The Centre is now fully operational and is starting to commission new research to enhance the evidence base to inform our policy and operational response and improve understanding. Research calls to date have focussed on the support for victims and survivors of modern slavery, and on the impact of COVID-19 on
modern slavery.

Awareness of modern slavery is growing, particularly in the aftermath of such tragic incidents as the death of 39 Vietnamese people in a lorry container in Tilbury last October. The report says that the government is seeking to raise more awareness to encourage members of the public to report situations where they think people may be being trafficked or used as modern slaves.

Although the report claims that the government is “acting at every level” to tackle these appalling crimes, it is clear that the number of successful prosecutions remain at a very low level. While the government claims that the pandemic has resulted intensified work, it is tempting to think that in practice resources may have been diverted elsewhere. We must wait for next year’s report to find out.

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