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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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Research on Modern Slavery

'Forced Labour: Contemporary Slavery in the UK'  

Joseph Rowntree  In April 2009, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launched a programme of work looking at forced labour in the UK.  The programme seeks to infleuence the development of policy that reduces the incidience of forced labour in the UK and which supports better services for its victims. Forced labour in the UK is related to a number of factors, some of which combine to create conditions of forced labour: UK immigration policy, the demand for cheap goods, a highly flexible and deregulated labour market; weak enforcement or inspection regimes; cultural traditions within nationality groups and higher levels of absolute poverty outside the UK. Most people in forced labour are migrant workers. The problem is not restricted to undocumented migrants; but migrant workers from the EU, who have the right to live and work in the UK. Sectors where forced labour has been identified include agriculture, construction, food processing and packaging, care, domestic work in private homes, hospitality and the restaurant trade. 


Defining Forced Labour

The International Labour Organisation has suggested the following indicators of forced labour:

  • threats or actual physical harm to the worker;
  • restriction of movement and confinement, to the workplace or to a limited area;
  • debt bondage, where the worker works to pay off debt or a loan, and is not paid for his or her services;
  • provision of food and accommodation by an employer at such inflated prices that the worker cannot escape the debt;
  • withholding of wages or excessive wage reductions that violate previously made agreements;
  • retention of passports and identity documents, so that the worker cannot leave or prove his/her identify and status;
  • threat of denunciation to the authorities, where the worker has an irregular immigration status.

'Contemporary Slavery in UK: Overview and Key Issues' - Report Findings

A joint research team, from the University of Hull and Anti-Slavery International, explored the contours of modern slavery in the U.K. in a Report entitled, 'Contemporary Slavery in UK: Overview and Key Issues'.

The report attempted to answer the question: What is slavery? It defined slavery by saying that there are three essential elements of the exploitative relationship which constitute slavery:

  • severe economic exploitation;
  • the lack of a human rights framework; and
  • control of one person over another by the prospect or reality of violence.

Many relationships of enslavement do not involve actual physical violence but the nature of the relationship – appalling working and housing conditions, the withdrawal of passports or ID documents, deceit and abuse of power, the use of physical intimidation – renders the possibility of flight remote. There is much evidence that those who do protest about such conditions may be beaten, abused, raped, deported or even killed.

The Report also distinguished slavery from poor working conditions. It said that it is important to distinguish poor – or even appalling – working conditions from slavery. Coercion is the key distinction: the enslaved person has no real alternative but to submit to the abusive relationship. Abuse refers to the treatment of one person by another specific person and is distinct from being forced into dangerous or difficult work by economic circumstances or other impersonal forces.

The Report found that:

  • Modern slavery exists in the UK in various forms. All exhibit the common elements of the exploitative relationship which have always constituted slavery: severe economic exploitation; the absence of a framework of human rights; and control of one person over another by the prospect or reality of violence. Coercion distinguishes slavery from poor working conditions. 
  • It is, however, very difficult to compile precise statistics about the extent of slavery in the UK and official figures are widely recognised to be substantial underestimates. Slavery in the UK often comes to light only when a crisis occurs.
  • Trafficking into the UK for sexual or domestic labour involves hundreds or even thousands of women and children.


The Report also found that: 

Some forms – such as child labour – have existed for years but are increasingly constrained by international conventions to protect the rights of children. Although child labour is prohibited in the UK, there is a connection with the UK through the conditions under which sportswear and clothing, or commodities such as tea or cocoa, are produced.

The Report noted:

  • Some UK-based companies, knowingly or not, rely on people working in slavery to produce goods which they sell: complex sub-contracting and supply chains, managed by agents elsewhere, often obscure this involvement. 
  •  The UK has tended to address trafficking as an issue of migration control rather than one of human rights.
  • Most trafficked people enter the UK legally but become subject to forced labour through a mix of enforced debt, intimidation, the removal of documents and an inadequate understanding of their rights. Statutory agency personnel are often unsure how to assist trafficked migrant workers and keep few or no records as to their subsequent well-being.
  • Slavery in contemporary Britain cannot be seen in isolation. Most of those working as slaves in the UK have come from elsewhere, often legally. Slavery is an international issue.

Stop the Traffick

Stop The TraffickAccording to Government figures Britain is a major focus for the global trade of sexual exploitation of women by traffickers, who trick or abduct young women and force them into prostitution: 10 years ago 85% of women in brothels were UK citizens; now 85% are from outside the UK.

The group that regulates and represents local newspapers has said that they will be considering new rules to bring an end to the advertising of brothels in classified adverts in recognition of the number of trafficked women who end up working in such places.

Sex trafficking is modern day slavery. The underlying view of human nature upon which it is based is nothing short of abhorrent. The view that other human beings – each made in the image of God and carriers of His imprimatur – are nothing more than disposable commodities, has no place in twenty first century Britain.

The Government has announced a review to look into prosecuting men who buy sex in an attempt to bring trafficking to an end. Such proposals are welcome and demonstrate that, combined with improved treatment of those who have been victims of trafficking, this Government is serious about ending modern day slavery in Britain.

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