Modern slavery and human rights in business

Modern slavery: protect workers and prevent exploitation


Slavery and human trafficking are among the fastest-growing criminal industries in the world today. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 49.6 million people were living in modern slavery in 2021, of which 27.6 million were in forced labour and 22 million were in forced marriage.

Of the 27.6 million people in forced labour, 17.3 million are exploited in the private sector; 6.3 million in forced commercial sexual exploitation, and 3.9 million in forced labour imposed by state.

Modern slavery costs the UK up to approximately £4.3bn per year. The latest Global Slavery Index, released in July 2018, estimated the number of victims of modern slavery in the UK at 136,000.

Businesses have a responsibility to ensure slavery and human trafficking does not take place in their organisations. Many businesses find temporary workers through recruitment agencies and gangmasters. In such instances, it might be difficult to identify if exploitative practices such as forced labour, human trafficking, or slavery, are taking place.

The risk of staff exploitation by unscrupulous labour providers can increase where people are vulnerable. While this is a crime that can affect anyone, of any age, gender, or nationality, evidence suggests that migrant workers are the most common victims, as they need the work to survive or their language skills limit their choice of employment options.

Ethical recruitment to avoid staff exploitation

As an employer, you should follow best practice recruitment practices to avoid potential exploitation of staff. If you are engaging with recruitment agencies or gangmasters to supply you with staff, the steps you can take to protect workers include:

  • Only work with registered recruitment businesses that you can be sure are legitimate.
  • Ensure that you have a written contract with your chosen employment provider.
  • Carry out spot checks on agency worker documents (eg right to work documents and contracts).
  • Speak to workers to ensure they are being fairly treated.

Taking active steps to tackle modern slavery and raise labour standards within your industry not only protects vulnerable workers but also protects your organisation's reputation and brand. See how to tackle modern slavery and the business benefits.