Human trafficking laws in the UK in 2023


Most people have, through the media, heard of human trafficking. And it is a tragic crime that, to date, has millions of direct and indirect victims.

Human trafficking is an extreme and tragic violation of human rights, affecting millions of individuals worldwide. Sadly, it is a crime that tends to target those who are in countries that do not have the best economy and, thus, are more likely to benefit from the act itself. 

In the United Kingdom, the government has enacted comprehensive legislation to combat this heinous crime. So, even if you or your company are involved in human trafficking that is taking place overseas, you can still be prosecuted under UK law, which is a very good thing, and showcases the strides that the UK is taking in relation to human rights. 

If you want to learn more, the following article provides an overview of the laws relating to human trafficking in the UK, highlighting the measures taken to prevent, prosecute, and protect victims.

Legislative framework

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The primary legislation governing human trafficking in the UK is the Modern Slavery Act 2015. This landmark legislation consolidated and strengthened previous laws, introducing new offences and providing enhanced protection for victims. The act covers both domestic and international trafficking, encompassing various forms of exploitation, such as forced labour, sexual exploitation, and domestic servitude.

Remember, these are very grave accusations to be on the receiving end of, so if you do find yourself being accused of being involved in human trafficking, you will need to hire a criminal solicitor to defend you.

Prevention and detection

As elusive as it may seem on the face of it, human trafficking is quite easy to spot for the authorities, even if it is not occurring on UK soil. 

The UK government is committed to preventing human trafficking through robust measures. The act imposes a duty on relevant public authorities to notify the Home Office of potential victims encountered in their work. Additionally, the act requires companies with an annual turnover of £36 million or more to publish an annual modern slavery statement, disclosing steps taken to combat slavery and trafficking in their supply chains.

Therefore if you are one of the fortunate people who has a business with that kind of profit margin, you will need to submit this statement to showcase that you are not benefiting from slavery. If you need help with the completion of this statement, then please, seek legal advice.

Prosecution and punishment

The Modern Slavery Act also equips law enforcement agencies in the UK with stronger tools to investigate and prosecute offenders. It introduced new offences, including slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour, and human trafficking. The penalties and the conviction for any of these crimes, directly or indirectly, can be severe, with perpetrators facing life imprisonment, unlimited fines, and the confiscation of assets.

When the authorities are assessing the level of punishment that is needed to fit the crime, they will assess the level of harm that was caused by the crime itself, how long it had been going on, the level of knowledge that the defendant had of it, and the extent of the issue. 

As an example, if your business has been accused of partaking in slavery overseas that involved 250 people making clothes for your business, spanning 5 years, then this is going to receive a more severe punishment than forcing someone into sewing some garments.

Support and protection for victims

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As a further stride in its bid to improve human rights, the UK recognises the importance of supporting and protecting victims of human trafficking. The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a vital framework that provides victims with access to support and assistance. The NRM aims to identify and protect potential victims, offering them accommodation, legal aid, and specialised care through government-funded services and NGOs.

To identify victims, frontline professionals, including law enforcement, healthcare providers, and social services, undergo specialised training. These professionals play a crucial role in recognising signs of trafficking and referring potential victims to the NRM. Once identified, victims are entitled to support, which may include housing, medical care, counselling, and assistance in obtaining legal status.

While it is true that the UK has made significant progress in combating human trafficking, many challenges remain for the authorities. These include the hidden nature of the crime, the need for improved cooperation across borders, and addressing emerging trends such as online exploitation. Continued efforts, collaboration, and public awareness are vital to effectively tackle this crime.

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