Modern Slavery in Wales

When we start to look into the statistics regarding modern slavery and forced labour today, the results are disturbing. For example –

  • the Modern Slavery Helpline received a 68% increase in calls and submissions in the year ending December 2018, compared with the previous year
  • there were 5,144 modern slavery offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019, an increase of 51% from the previous year
  • the number of potential victims referred through the UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM) increased by 36% to 6,985 in the year ending December 2018 (source:

Modern slavery charity Unseen states that “There is no typical victim of slavery. Victims are men, women and children of all ages, ethnicities and nationalities and cut across the population. However, it’s normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable or within minority or socially excluded groups.” (source:

The term ‘modern slavery’ encompasses various forms of human trafficking, including forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and even organ harvesting, which is facilitated by the control of victims via corcercion, force, intimidation, and deceit. BAME Women’s charity BAWSO offers this definition;

Human trafficking is the second largest illegal trade in the world. It is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring 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. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to coercion, exploitation, deception, kidnap, false imprisonment and rape.” (source:

BAWSO runs the Diogel project, offering refuge and support for victims of human trafficking.

A new Justice and Slavery report from July of 2020 states that there are likely more than 4,600 victims of modern slavery in Wales today, and this is predicted to increase following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The most common forms of modern slavery in Wales involve forced labour in such commonplace settings as nail bars, car washes, construction sites, and farms. Victims are vulnerable individuals coerced into unpaid labour and often forced to live in squalid conditions. Refugees and immigrants are seen as easy prey for the industry, due to social isolation, lack of familiarity with or fear of UK laws and policing, and in many cases cultural and language barriers.

Some are trafficked into the UK for the express purpose of exploitation, and some are already living in the UK or newly arrived as refugees or migrants.

Cardiff has been identified as a hotspot for human trafficking, with a 43% increase in overall referrals from Wales to the Salvation Army’s modern slavery support services in the past year showing almost half of those victims as being from, or in, the Cardiff area. Most victims were trafficked into forced labour, but a high number were sufferers of sexual exploitation. (source: BBC News)

The Salvation Army works in partnership with a number of services providing support, advice, and safe housing for victims of human trafficking in England and Wales.

Their website states that; “Centuries after slavery was officially abolished, thousands of people are still being exploited and sold as slaves across the UK. They can be forced to work in the sex trade, used as domestic slaves, exploited for labour or criminal activity, or have their organs removed to be sold. Victims trafficked into the UK often are often unable to speak English, have their travel and identity documents removed, and are told that if they try to attempt an escape, they or their families will be harmed.”

In a time when we look back on the horrors of slavery in the past and pat ourselves on the back for our improved sensibilities and humanity, it is a shock to the system to read the account above, so similar to the descriptions of historical slavery!

A frightening recent development has been a 53% decrease in referrals to the Salvation Army hotline since the start of Covid-19 lockdowns. Reality tells us this is not due to a decrease in exploitation, but rather points to the inability of victims to access support, and to the forced social isolation providing a convenient cover for those engaging in exploitation.

In January of this year, a police raid carried out on a nail salon in London led to the rescue of four young employees trapped in forced labour. (source: Freedom United)

This raid followed national attention to a tragic loss of life in October of 2019, when the bodies of 39 Vietnamese migrants were found inside a lorry in Essex. Investigations into the gruesome discovery pointed to a wide and profitable network of trafficking, with individuals being packed into suffocating haulage containers and transported into the UK to be exploited. Hauntingly, the victim’s phones showed evidence of frantic attempts to contact families and loved ones – messages and calls that remained unconnected due to the lack of phone service in the trailer.

Far more work is needed to expose the ugly realities of modern slavery, both to provide support for victims and to protect those who may be at risk from falling prey to this horrific industry. At a time when global attention is being drawn to the trade in human lives carried on so profitably, and so cruelly, throughout the world during the height of the trans-atlantic slave trade and the boom of plantation ownership in the United States, we have an increased responsibility to look into the continued horrors taking place today, so close to home, where the exploitation of men, women, and children alike is lining the pockets of those perpetrating abuse.

Social isolation and marginalization of BAME or migrant communities only increases the risk of exploitation. As a society it is our duty to cultivate our own awareness of these issues so that we can learn how to recognise and report signs, how to help protect those most at risk, and how to avoid habits that may support the trade in human suffering (such as providing business for those, like the nail salons mentioned above, who may be exploiting the vulnerable).

One is tempted to ask the question – is there still an element of dehumanisation in our society? Do we look on those who are different than us; those who look different, speak a different language, or come from a different culture, as somehow less worthy of our concern?

Would we rest for a moment if someone we knew was the victim of something as horrendous as modern slavery?

Of course not! And yet, despite the alarming statistics and the general knowledge that this is something that is occurring today, in our own towns and cities, it is somehow absent from our conversations.

The parallel is there, waiting to be made. If we turn a blind eye to the victimization of individuals so close to home, are we any different to the comfortable middle classes of yesterday who chose to ignore the brutal realities of historical slavery and the violence of the slave trade? And if we continue with our comfortable ignorance…will this industry continue to grow?

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