What is Human Trafficking

According to Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, (the Palermo Protocol) which supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime:

“Trafficking in persons” shall mean 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.

 Trafficking in the UK

The UK is primarily a destination country for trafficking although an alarming number of people are actually trafficked within the UK. Some people are brought directly to the UK and their exploitation commences only after arrival here, while others are brought to the UK in stages and exploited in transit countries before ultimately arriving in the UK. The majority of trafficked victims in the UK are from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.  The top six countries are Albania, Vietnam,  Nigeria, Romania, United Kingdom and Poland, the numbers from these countries amounting to 58% of the total.

However it is impossible to say what the true number is.  What we do know are the National Referral Mechanism statistics for people who were potentially victims of trafficking:

3,266 potential victims were referred in to the National Referral Mechanism in 2015; a 40% increase on 2014

  • Potential victims of trafficking were reported to be from 192 different countries of origin
  • Albania, Vietnam and Nigeria remain the most common country of origin of potential victims referred
  • Potential victims from Sudan saw the highest percentage increase in the number of referrals compared to the previous year
  • The most common exploitation type recorded for potential victims exploited as an adult was labour exploitation, which also includes criminal exploitation
  • The most prominent exploitation type recorded for potential victims first exploited as a minor, where known, was labour exploitation, which includes the sub category of criminal exploitation

Note that these are potential victims and many are not subsequently assessed as having been trafficked.

The 3,266 referrals were comprised of 1,744 females and 1,588 males and 2 trans-sexuals.  2,284 were referred for adult exploitation categories and 982 referred for exploitation as a minor.

For full details see the report:


At its simplest level the types of human trafficking can be summarised as: forced labour, domestic servitude and sex working but there is also benefit fraud, begging, stealing, cannabis cultivation and even organ harvesting.  This last is very rare in the UK but has happened.  Forced labour takes many forms: agriculture, restaurants, tarmacking/paving, construction, leaflet delivery, factory work, food processing, car washing and fisheries.  The Morecambe Bay cockle pickers were trafficked and even though the Gangmasters Licensing Authority  is behind the fight against trafficking and its Chairman addressed the Santa Marta Group in December 2014 https://soundcloud.com/catholicchurch/paul-broadbent-from-the-gangmasters-licensing-authority-on-trafficking?in=catholicchurch/sets/human-trafficking-conference   problems remain within an industry that is difficult to control.

Large UK companies use trafficked labour without being aware of it.  Particularly at times when extra labour is needed, workers are supplied, apparently legitimately, by “agencies”.  Because the agency rather than individual is paid the company itself may be unaware of the nature of the people employed.

For a full description of what human trafficking is see http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html

There are many case histories of people trafficked (see under Case Histories) but one is worth mentioning here because it demonstrates the degree to which people can be trafficked on many fronts.  A family of 12 from the Czech Republic was rescued and came under the protection of a Medaille Safe House.  This family had come over the UK expecting a life a great deal better than the one they were coming from.   Once in the UK and under the control of the traffickers the potential for lucrative exploitation was massive:  forced labour for the males, domestic servitude or sexual slavery for the women and girls.  But beyond that, they can claim benefit which goes into back accounts they have no control of , and loans they have no control of that will not be paid back, similarly mobile ‘phone contracts.  Families do not necessarily know that their daughters are sex slaves.