The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK - Home Affairs Committee Contents

3  Prevention

Public awareness

44. We have already indicated the hidden nature of human trafficking: victims come from a variety of ethnic and national groups represented in the general population, are isolated from society but also may be found in many different 'normal' occupations, in any part of the UK. It is therefore essential that not only the police and immigration authorities but also those working for other public services, politicians, the judiciary, the media and the general public should be aware that people they meet in the ordinary course of their lives may be victims of trafficking. Europol argued: "In many cases, the victims of trafficking in human beings can be seen in public and in many cases people who are using these services [provided by the victims] are … a player [in the situation] and they should have an understanding that these people have been trafficked."[87]

45. Public awareness of human trafficking has been low in the UK, though it has risen recently with such stimuli as the commemoration of the bicentenary of abolition of the slave trade, increasing numbers of newspaper articles and the publication of several books, fiction and non-fiction, about victims and perpetrators. The UKHTC was set up, in part, to spread awareness of this crime. At first, efforts to increase public consciousness concentrated on sexual exploitation, which the UKHTC believed was successful because it was very easy to understand that those traded were the victims of a crime. The UKHTC told us it was now changing emphasis to try to raise awareness of labour exploitation and domestic servitude. The key audiences for this were law enforcement agencies (especially the neighbourhood teams who might in the course of their work pick up clues to the existence of brothels or indicators of forced labour) and the general public. The UKHTC's next target audiences were victims themselves and other professions with which victims had contact—the health service and social services, for example. The UKHTC had worked closely with Anti-Slavery International on its national prevention strategy, which had included the 'Blue Blindfold' advertising campaign started in 2008. The UKHTC told us that its budget for this strategy was only £1.6 million, so it and its NGO partners had had to ask bus companies, cinemas and so on to show the 'Blue Blindfold' adverts for free. The UKHTC was also about to produce a DVD aimed at schoolchildren, warning about the dangers of becoming a victim of trafficking.[88]

Preventing forced labour: the role of employers and employment law

46. Victims of forced labour may be found in many legitimate employment sectors which depend on seasonal or casual staff. Because of notorious exploitation of such workers in one such sector, agriculture and food processing, Parliament approved legislation establishing a licensing regime for those supplying casual labourers to the sector—gangmasters—and a special regulatory body, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, was set up to police the regime. As this is the only sector with experience of such a licensing regime, we asked the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to tell us about the licensing scheme, how they policed it and what, if any, evidence of forced labour they had found. They told us that their conditions for issuing and continuing a licence were that the labour provider:

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority considered these "a reasonable range of measures that should be in place in any well-run business complying with the law." The Authority may also impose additional licensing conditions, which have to be met within a specified time. It is a criminal offence to operate as a gangmaster without a licence, or to use an unlicensed labour provider; the maximum penalty for the former offence is a prison sentence of ten years and a fine, for the latter a prison sentence of six months and a fine of £5000.[89]

47. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has received over 3000 reports of possible illegal activity since it started work in 2006. These reports have come from other government agencies, licence-holders concerned about apparently unfair competition, labour users (farmers, manufacturers, etc) and from workers. The Authority told us: "We always action pieces of intelligence."[90] In six of the seven most serious cases with which it had dealt up to spring 2008, where the licence was revoked with immediate effect, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority had found evidence of activities matching the International Labour Organisation's indicators of forced labour: the intimidation of workers with threats of violence; attempted forced evictions from tied accommodation; debt bondage;[91] the withholding of wages; and threats to cut off water and electricity from tied accommodation. The Authority had sent reports on these cases to the UKHTC for further investigation.[92] The Authority told us that for the first two years of its existence it had concentrated on licensing legitimate businesses. It has now moved on to targeting the unlicensed and illegitimate operators and has launched Operation Ajax, a series of major, unannounced, intelligence raids due to take place over the years 2008-2010..[93]

48. We asked the Gangmasters Licensing Authority whether there was any evidence that its activity had pushed those who might have supplied forced labour to work in other sectors. The Authority at that time did not know what had happened to the companies whose licences it had revoked: they might have disappeared completely or moved on.[94] Subsequently, the Authority has given us further evidence that at least one of those companies was continuing to operate "in the non-GLA regulated sectors, including construction."[95] If the Authority uncovers evidence of exploitation in another sector, it passes that evidence on to the body that inspects employment agencies in general.[96]

Care workers were made to work 95-97 hours a week without being entitled to days off. These workers were contracted by an agency to provide care in the home of clients, but the travel time between clients (often an hour) was not included in their work hours or their pay, even though the clients were paying the agency for the travel time.

Two Vietnamese men were recruited to work in the UK. They paid the agent £18,000 to arrange the job and came to the UK under the work permit scheme with a promise to received £4.95 per hour for their work. On arrival in the UK an agent met them at the airport and took their passports away from them. The men worked in a major hotel chain for two months without receiving any pay. All they were given was food. They attempted to organise a strike at the hotel, but almost immediately after this their families in Vietnam received threats. The men were too frightened to approach the Vietnamese Embassy or the police and only approached a Citizens Advice Bureau office via a Vietnamese speaking person they met on the street.

49. The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has an Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate whose task is to ensure that employment agencies of all kinds[97] comply with relevant employment legislation, in particular the employment rights of vulnerable workers. Its remit covers a very wide range of employment sectors (modelling, the entertainment industry, IT and office workers, as well as industry, the construction and transport sectors) and it does not have the specific licensing powers of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. The way in which it conducts its work is set out in detail in the latest Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate General Enforcement and Procedural Guidance, published in March 2009. The Agency's inspections are normally undertaken in response to a complaint (received on the Agency's telephone helpline or from other sources). Agencies found to be in breach of legislation "may need to be considered for follow up action to obtain full compliance … if a follow-up visit is deemed necessary, this should take place between 3 to 6 months following the previous visit". When serious infringements are found, the inspector should consider criminal proceedings, but before this is possible the inspector "should obtain details of workers or hirers affected by the breaches of the legislation and sample documentation to support these breaches", and before starting such an investigation the Inspector should also seek advice from line management who will themselves seek advice from BERR lawyers on whether a prosecution is possible.[98] In less serious cases, inspectors are told to draw the employment agency's attention to any infringements and issue corrective advice; the agency has to confirm in writing what remedial action it intends to take.

50. The NGOs who work with victims were not impressed by the general approach outside the Gangmaster Licensing Authority's sector: "very often it is just the workers that are being targeted: they are deported without anybody asking about the conditions [of their work] and the employer gets away with a fine, sets up a new company the next day and the whole thing goes on."[99]

51. The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate's annual report highlights the changes made to its powers by the Employment Act 2008; the employment agency provisions came into force only on 6 April 2009. These provisions increase the penalties for agencies who refuse to comply, enable inspectors to seek the financial records of agencies from banks in certain circumstances and, more significantly for victims of trafficking, allow the Inspectorate to bring charges of 'attempting to commit' offences, doing away with the need for witnesses who might be unwilling to give evidence through fear. The report also notes that the Government has recently doubled the number of inspectors—from 12 to 24, plus four staff for the helpline; the helpline is now open from 9.00-17.00 on weekdays, instead of 9.30-16.30; and both the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the Employments Agency Standards Inspectorate will undergo Hampton implementation reviews[100] in the course of 2009, including consideration of whether they need powers to impose administrative sanctions such as 'comply or stop now' or on-the-spot fines.[101]

52. The Minister mentioned to us the Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum, which was led by BERR and had on it representatives of the agencies enforcing employment law (including the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and Employment Standards Agency), trade unions, employers and third parties.[102] The Minister told us that the Forum was intended to improve co-ordination among regulators and was considering how best to help vulnerable workers access advice and assist in enforcing their employment rights. The Forum published its final report in August 2008.[103] The report does not discuss trafficking victims as such, but contains sections on the particular problems faced by migrant workers (in particular, language difficulties and unfamiliarity with UK law and public authorities). However, like the rules governing the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, the report is posited on the idea that exploited workers will be able, if given information, to take the initiative to approach the regulators for help. In the case of victims of trafficking, this is very unlikely: either they are physically unable to escape from their exploiters, or they are deterred by violence or threats.[104] The report notes that there had been extensive discussion, but no agreement, in the Forum about the extension of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority's licensing regime to other sectors.

There was … agreement that the GLA had started to raise standards in the sectors where compliance with employment rights had previously been notoriously poor. The Forum, however, heard contrasting points of view from union and business and Citizens Advice representatives on the case for extending GLA-style licensing.

Some representatives on the Forum supported an extension of GLA-style licensing to all labour providers, particularly in the sectors where they believed that there were a higher proportion of vulnerable workers. The sectors of most concern were construction, hospitality and cleaning services. Some were not convinced that the EAS was equipped in terms of legal powers or resources to prevent abuses in unlicensed sectors. They said EAS was limited in its ability to take immediate action to prevent an agency trading. There were also concerns about non-compliant labour providers moving out of the licensed sectors into the EAS-regulated sectors.

Other members were unconvinced of the need for an extension of licensing. They said most of the benefits of the licensing model were already present in the EAS model without the additional costs and bureaucracy. The priority was effective enforcement of the existing law which could be achieved by increasing the powers, resources and profile of the Inspectorate. The evidence for displacement was also disputed.[105]

The Government concluded:

The government does not currently intend to extend licensing but to prioritise effective enforcement of the existing law. It will do this by taking steps to strengthen the EAS and ensure that it develops a significantly higher profile amongst agency workers and agencies themselves, building on the stronger investigative and penalty powers being legislated for through the current Employment Bill.[106]

53. As our evidence from UCATT showed,[107] some trade unions are moving into the breach, but many of the sectors in which trafficked workers are employed—especially catering, but also some care work and cleaning businesses—are not heavily unionised. Moreover, even if trafficked workers do try to claim, for example, the Minimum Wage, they are not always considered entitled to receive it: illegal immigrants have no right to back pay or compensation if they have been paid less than the Minimum Wage, and Kalayaan reported considerable difficulties in persuading the Minimum Wage Compliance Team that migrant domestic workers were entitled to the Minimum Wage. In fact, the UKBA's Instructions to entry clearance officers state that even if an employer applying for a Migrant Domestic Worker visa says that he intends to pay a worker much less than the Minimum Wage, this is not a reason to refuse to issue the visa.[108] We think it wrong that entry clearance officers are instructed to issue Migrant Domestic Workers visas even when they know that the employer intends to pay the worker less than the UK Minimum Wage: this makes a mockery of the concept of a legal minimum wage.

54. We asked the Gangmasters Licensing Authority whether it believed its work should be extended to sectors other than agriculture, food processing and the shellfish industry. It responded, in effect, that it was already fully occupied with its existing remit.[109]

55. Neither the Minister nor Anti-Slavery International thought there was a need for more legislation to tackle the problem of forced labour.[110] We agree that existing employment law, the National Minimum Wage, regulations on rented accommodation and so on should be sufficient to prevent the sorts of abuses highlighted by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and UCATT—but only if they are enforced. It seems to us that, outside the Gangmasters Licensing Authority's sectors, enforcement is at best patchy and at worst non-existent.

56. Part of the solution lies in increasing public awareness of trafficking as a whole and of the different forms that it can take, including into 'normal' jobs. More particularly, there is a need to train a variety of public officials—health service workers, social workers, building inspectors, health and safety inspectors and others—about the various indicators of forced labour and where to find help if they suspect someone has been trafficked.[111]

57. Another part of the solution is to look more closely at the sectors in which victims are employed. This could be done either by expanding the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority or by giving the relevant existing regulatory bodies equivalent licensing and enforcement powers to that Authority. We suggest that the construction industry should be the first focus and if, after two years, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate has not succeeded in reducing abuse, then the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority should be extended to cover construction.

Migrant Domestic Workers

A young man, in his late twenties or early thirties, came to the attention of the UK immigration authorities. He had never slept on a bed, had never sat in a chair and had never been paid any money. He had been brought here at the age of 11 from Pakistan into a family home and had no documentation and no evidence of ever having been here.

58. In 1998 the UK Government introduced a special visa regime for migrant domestic workers to try to curb abuse by employers. Amongst other things, this type of visa allows such workers to change employers, but they must remain in full time employment in one job as a domestic worker in a private household. As Kalayaan says, "This provides [Migrant Domestic Workers] with a vital escape route from exploitation….[as] they are able to leave an exploitative situation without jeopardising their immigration status, seek advice, and if they wish they can seek assistance from the police or go to an employment tribunal." The first visa is usually issued for six months; subsequent renewals can be for up to a year, provided the worker stays in full-time employment. [112]

59. We note in the next chapter difficulties experienced by migrant domestic workers: the police do not always understand their special status and the immigration authorities frequently fail to follow the correct procedures for issuing visas, procedures that would help to identify abuse. However, for all the reasons already stated,[113] domestic workers are peculiarly vulnerable to abuse; and we agree with Kalayaan that: "To retain the existing Migrant Domestic Workers visa and the protection it offers to workers is the single most important issue" in preventing the forced labour and trafficking of such workers.[114] We note the Government's decision to continue with this visa regime, despite the introduction of the Points-based System for those from outside the EEA applying to work in the UK. However, the extension of the Migrant Domestic Worker visa regime is only for two years, though the Government has also agreed to carry out research into migrant domestic workers in the UK and use this research to inform future decision on visas. We consider it likely that migrant domestic workers will need the special status afforded by the current visa regime for much longer than two years.

Registration of EEA nationals as employees

60. All the problems relating to forced labour that we have mentioned so far may be faced by those with a legal right to work in the UK as well as illegal migrants. However, one of our witnesses raised with us a problem that affects only EEA nationals. Those from the A8 Member States (the Central and Eastern European countries which acceded to the EU in 2004) have to register employment in the UK within one month of starting work. To register, they must produce a letter from their employer proving the employment relationship. Employment of unregistered workers is in theory punished with a fine, but in practice those found during routine enforcement procedures to be employing unregistered staff are simply encouraged to get their employees registered. The difficulty for employees is that unregistered workers are not entitled to the same protections under UK employment law (for example, the Minimum Wage and Working Time Regulations) as indigenous workers even though they pay the same tax and National Insurance; and workers cannot register themselves without a letter from their employer. The Advice on Individual Rights in Europe Centre (AIRE), which provides legal advice to workers, told us: "unscrupulous individuals can easily trick A8 nationals into believing that legitimate work awaits them in the UK without fear of their victims' encountering problems at the border, and then fail to register their workers and engage in unacceptable and frequently illegal labour practices without fear of legal action."[115] Such employers often threaten the workers with deportation, thus preventing them from leaving the job in which they are being exploited.

61. AIRE suggested that the authorities should actually use the sanctions against employers of unregistered workers as a disincentive to exploitation of such workers, and they recommended that when enforcement operations took place the officials should be careful to look out for signs of trafficking.[116] We endorse these recommendations.

Reducing demand for sex trafficking


62. We were concerned that the growth in the number of 'adult entertainment' establishments, such as lap dancing clubs, and the ease with which these businesses advertised themselves (particularly in local newspapers) were fuelling demand for sex workers and therefore indirectly for sex trafficking. The Poppy Project was of this view, noting that newspaper adverts often referred to women of particular ethnic origins being 'newly arrived'. Chief Constable Maxwell, speaking on behalf of both the UKHTC and ACPO, also thought adverts for personal services encouraged trafficking. He suggested that editors should come to an agreement not to accept such adverts.[117]

63. We invited the Society of Editors to give oral evidence to us; it declined. However, one of the companies that owns a substantial number of local newspapers, Newsquest, agreed to give evidence. A few weeks before it was scheduled to appear before us, Newsquest decided to stop taking classified advertisements for 'adult' services, which, we were told, had resulted in a substantial loss of income—between £200,000 and £250,000 for the Hampshire region alone. The Editor-in-Chief of the Southern Daily Echo, representing Newsquest, said that he had become aware of such adverts creeping into newspapers only over the previous ten years. We also asked what, if anything, had happened to the adverts his group now rejected. He reported that the Hampshire police thought they were moving onto the Internet. We also asked him whether any guidance on this area was available from the Society of Editors or Newspaper Society: the guidance from the Society of Editors simply stated that it was for individual newspapers to decide whether to take such adverts, and the Newspaper Society advised that if editors noticed adverts that were clearly for sex establishments, they should tell the advertising manager not to accept them. The Editor said that he would welcome guidelines from the Society of Editors.[118]

64. We welcome Newquest's decision; and urge other local newspapers to follow that lead and the Society of Editors to issue clear guidelines that newspapers should not accept advertisements for sex encounter establishments.

Legislation on the sex industry

65. While we were pursuing this inquiry, the Government announced that it would propose legislation to make having sexual intercourse with prostitutes "controlled for gain"—including those trafficked into prostitution— a strict liability offence: in other words, it would not be a defence to claim that you did not know the prostitute was controlled by someone else or had been trafficked. A strict liability offence already existing in this area of the law is that of having sexual intercourse with an underage person. The Minister for Equality defended the Government's proposals to us, arguing that the majority of off-street prostitution was controlled by organised crime gangs who bought and sold women to work in the brothels, and that the prostitutes' clients rarely helped them even when the women made it clear that they were being coerced.[119] The Minister echoed one of the messages given by the Blue Blindfold campaign, summarised by the UKHTC as "if a man has sex with a trafficked woman, whether he thinks he has paid for it or not, he has raped that woman".[120]

66. The provisions to give effect to the Government's proposals have been introduced as part of the Policing and Crime Bill, currently awaiting its Report stage in the House of Commons.[121] Some of the organisations representing prostitutes have objected to the introduction of such an offence, arguing that it would be likely to drive prostitution further underground, increase the control exercised by violent criminals over the trade, deter the more law-abiding clients—who, they claim, are more likely to report concerns about potential trafficking to the authorities—and in general make it more difficult to protect sex workers.[122] Police officers whom we have questioned have different concerns: they think in practice it would be very difficult to enforce a strict liability law in this area.

67. We do not intend to comment on the moral and practical arguments about the desirability of de-criminalising or further criminalising prostitution in the UK, as this was not part of our terms of reference in undertaking this inquiry. We do, however, wish to draw to the Government's attention the serious concerns expressed to us by police officers about the practicability of enforcing the proposed legislation.

87   Q 329 Back

88   Qq 244-245 and 256 Stop the Traffik had some doubts about the efficacy of the Blue Blindfold campaign to increase awareness among the general public: Ev 250, para 3 Back

89   Ev 214, paras 3.1-4.1 Back

90   Q 128 Back

91   The Gangmasters Licensing Authority says: "no one must be retained against their will, whether or not there is a debt owing. If a worker is lent money by the gangmaster to meet travel or other expenses in order to take up a position, they must be provided with details in writing of the amount loaned and the agreed repayment terms. If loan repayments are deducted from workers' wages, they must give their written permission for this to be done": Ev 215, para 6.3 Back

92   Ev 215, paras 6.1-6.2 and Q 118 The Authority has subsequently found evidence of forced labour in two more cases: Ev 213, paras 2-7 Back

93   Qq 126-127 and Ev 218, para 8.1 Back

94   Q 134 Back

95   Ev 213, para 3 Back

96   Q 134 Back

97   The inspectorate deals with both employment agencies and employment businesses, as defined by sections 13(2) and 13(3) of the Employment Agencies Act 1973. In essence, agencies introduce workers for direct employment by the final employer, while an employment business supplies individuals whom it employs to hirers under temporary contracts. Back

98   Paragraphs 21-23 and 29-30 Back

99   Q 33 (Anti-Slavery international) Back

100   These are reviews of the appropriateness of the burdens placed upon employers etc by regulatory authorities. Back

101   Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate Annual Report for 2007-08, December 2008, pages 7-8 and 14 Back

102   Qq 135 (Gangmasters Licensing Authority) and 536 (Minister) Back

103   Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum - Final Report and Government Conclusions, August 2008 Back

104   Q 20 (Anti-Slavery International) Back

105   Ibid., paras 7.9-7.11 Back

106   Ibid., Executive Summary, p7 Back

107   See paragraphs 133 below Back

108   Q 34 (Anti-Slavery International); Ev 120, para 16 and Ev 122 (Kalayaan) The relevant guidance is contained in the Immigration Directorate's Instructions issued in December 2002, Chapter 5, Section 12, para 3.3 Back

109   Q 135 Back

110   Qq 32 (Anti-Slavery International) and 536 (Minister) Back

111   We discuss this further in the next chapter, paragraphs 120ff. Back

112   Ev 118, paras 5-6 Back

113   Ev 117, para 2 (Kalayaan) Back

114   Ev 117 and 119, paras 11-12 Back

115   Ev 179, para 62 Back

116   Ev 180, para 67 Back

117   Qq 59 (Poppy Project) and 250-251 (Maxwell) Back

118   Qq 290-292, 297, 299 and 310-311 Back

119   Qq 493-497 Back

120   Q 256 Back

121   Clauses 13-14 of the Bill as reported from Committee Back

122   See, for example, the written evidence from the International Union of Sex Workers, Ev 231-239 Back

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