Joint Committee On Human Rights Twenty-Sixth Report

1  Introduction

Our inquiry

1. In this Report we consider one of the most serious human rights issues in the modern world, human trafficking, which in recent years has brought to the heart of Western societies, the UK included, a new and pernicious form of slavery inflicting suffering on many thousands of people across the world.

2. The phenomenon of human trafficking, which takes a variety of forms, is first and foremost a criminal activity perpetrated against its victims. As we explain in this Report, however, it also engages a number of crucial human rights obligations which apply to the policies and practices adopted by Governments to combat trafficking and afford protection to the victims of trafficking. Appropriate legal and policy responses to human trafficking have been under detailed consideration by international organisations over the last decade or so, and this consideration has resulted in the adoption of a number of international instruments, notably by the UN, the European Union and the Council of Europe, defining human trafficking and setting out the standards to be observed by member states in combating it.

3. Within this context, at national level Governments have been fashioning their own responses to trafficking, normally encompassing legislation to create specific criminal offences of trafficking and to provide protection to victims. One of the main purposes of this Report is to assess the extent to which the response made so far by the UK Government has satisfied the human rights obligations by which it is currently bound. At the same time, we are aware that UK policy and practice in relation to trafficking is continually under review and development. In particular, the Government has recently consulted on a UK Action plan to tackle human trafficking, and intends to produce a final Action Plan later this year (see paragraphs 9 and 10 below).

4. The Government's consultation on its Action Plan did not formally ask for respondents' views on whether the UK should sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings,[1] though it did seek views on the provision of reflection periods and residence permits to victims of trafficking, two of the core provisions of that Convention, and in that context a large number of respondents took the opportunity to urge the Government to sign up to the Convention. In this Report we consider the provisions of the Convention relating to protection of victims in some detail, and weigh the evidence for and against the Government's current concern that those provisions could act as "pull" factors to the UK, thus exacerbating the problem of trafficking.[2] As we announced in our call for evidence of 19 October 2005, our Report also considers more generally whether or to what extent ratification of the Convention by the UK would enhance human rights protection in relation to human trafficking, and assesses the changes to law, policy and practice which would be necessary in order to ratify and successfully implement the Convention.[3]

5. First, in Chapter 2 of this Report, we describe the most significant extant human rights standards applicable to human trafficking, structured in accordance with the three principal obligations imposed upon states—

  to prohibit and prevent trafficking and related acts

  to investigate, prosecute and punish[4] traffickers

  to protect victims of trafficking.

In Chapter 3 we explain the main provisions of the Council of Europe Convention relating to the protection of victims of trafficking. This Convention has not yet come into effect. Chapter 4 sets out the available evidence on the scale and nature of the problem of human trafficking in the UK, and in Chapter 5 we consider current UK legislation and policy on the prohibition and prevention of trafficking, and the enforcement of the law against traffickers. In Chapter 6 we focus on UK practice on the protection of trafficking victims, and also give a comparative account of the different approach adopted by Italy to this matter, primarily in the context of the protection of victims. The discussions we held during our visit to Italy made a profound impression on our thinking about the best ways to address human trafficking, and the lessons we learnt resonate through the rest of this Report. In this Chapter we also consider the impact which signing up to the Council of Europe Convention would have on UK policy on protection of victims within the context of its anti-trafficking strategy. Finally, in Chapter 7, we set out our principal conclusions and recommendations.

6. One consistent thread runs through our consideration in this Report of the different aspects of human trafficking in the UK. That is the question of whether the Government has got the human rights balance right in its attempt to reconcile the various objectives of enforcing the law against traffickers, preventing trafficking and illegal immigration when it is associated with trafficking, and protecting the victims of trafficking. As we explain in the rest of this Report, it is our firm belief, based on the evidence we have received, that the Government needs to reconsider the balance it has struck between these different imperatives. We are encouraged by our further belief that the Government is also committed to achieving the best possible balance in its overall policy to combat trafficking, grounding that policy in human rights standards, and has an open mind about how this can best be achieved.

7. Written evidence received in our inquiry is published as Appendices to this Report. We also publish with this Report the transcripts of oral evidence we took. In addition to this formal oral evidence, we held informal meetings with representatives of Reflex and the Metropolitan Police's Clubs and Vice Unit at the start of our inquiry, and visited the offices of the Eaves Housing for Women Poppy Project, where we met and talked to project staff and two Eastern European women victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation who were being supported by the project. Italy is often cited as a country which has adopted best practice in its policy on human trafficking, and in June we visited Rome and Venice where we had discussions with central Government Ministers and officials, as well as with local government officials and NGOs running support schemes for trafficking victims, along with others. We are most grateful to all those who assisted us in the course of our inquiry.

8. Two specialist advisers assisted us in this inquiry: Dr Vanessa Munro of King's College London and Dr Tomoya Obokata of Queen's University Belfast. We record our gratitude to them as well for their assistance.

The Government's consultation on a UK Action Plan

9. As mentioned above, in parallel with our inquiry, but as an entirely separate exercise, the Home Office launched on 5 January 2006 a national consultation exercise on proposals for a UK Action Plan on Human Trafficking.[5] Such Action Plans have been recommended by international organisations including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).[6] The Home Office has been considering what elements should be included in the Action Plan, particularly in the areas of (a) prevention, (b) investigation, law enforcement and prosecution, and (c) protection and assistance to victims. During the consultation period, approximately 200 individuals and organisations both within and outside the UK responded, and in June 2006, the Home Office published a follow-up report which contains a summary of responses received. [7] The following is the list of key points raised:


  • The National Action Plan lacks a human rights focus.[8] Trafficking should be seen not merely as an organised immigration crime, but also as a grave violation of fundamental human rights. The human rights of victims should be at the core of UK response to trafficking.
  • The National Action Plan must pay special attention to children and young people who are trafficked, and also incorporate a gender perspective.[9]
  • The National Action Plan is not legally binding, so it is difficult to hold authorities accountable in case of non-compliance.[10]
  • The National Action Plan must be as detailed as possible. It should contain specific timeframes for implementation, allocation of resources and division of labour.[11]


  • There needs to be a stronger emphasis on demand reduction and tackling the causes of trafficking in the National Action Plan.[12]
  • The National Action Plan should promote research and intelligence gathering focused not only on source states, but also on the UK itself. The Government needs to understand what makes the UK an attractive destination and what deters traffickers from using other countries.[13]
  • The National Action Plan must include effective training and awareness raising programmes both within UK and abroad, in co-operation with NGOs and other concerned partners.[14]

Investigation, Law Enforcement and Prosecution

  • Protection of the human rights of victims should be at the core of law enforcement in the UK.
  • The National Action Plan should promote effective co-ordination and co-operation among competent authorities and with NGOs and other members of civil society to avoid duplication of effort and expenditure.[15]

Protection and Assistance to Victims

  • The National Action Plan fails to provide the minimum standards of care and protection that the Council of Europe Convention would provide.
  • The National Action Plan should promote a nation-wide victim protection/support system, including effective identification and referrals, for all victims of trafficking.[16]
  • The National Action Plan does not touch upon longer term protection of victims.[17]

10. In addition to these main points, the respondents proposed a number of other recommendations in order to improve the current UK response to trafficking. We welcome the Government's consultation on its National Action Plan to combat human trafficking, and urge the Government to take the responses to that consultation on board in order to promote an effective human rights approach to combating trafficking. While this Report is not a formal response to the Government's consultation, many of our conclusions and recommendations, as will be seen, mirror those submitted to the Government during that consultation. We expect the conclusions and recommendations contained in this Report to be given serious consideration by the Government when it decides the contents of that Action Plan.

1   Council of Europe Treaty Series/197. Henceforth "Council of Europe Convention" or "Convention".  Back

2   Appendix 1, para 67 Back

3   In this sense this Report reflects our recent undertaking to report on human rights treaties before their ratification, if they raise any significant issues of which Parliament should be aware (Twenty-third Report of Session 2005-06, The Committee's Future Working Practices, HL Paper 239/HC 1575, para.68). Back

4   "Punish" is the word used in some places in the relevant instruments. We do not consider this word to mean necessarily anything beyond bringing traffickers to justice and imposing sanctions. Back

5   Tackling Human Trafficking - Consultation on Proposals for a UK Action Plan, Home Office and Scottish Executive, January 2006 Back

6   Appendix 1, para. 4 Back

7   Tackling Human Trafficking - Summary of responses to the Consultation on Proposals for a UK Action Plan, Home Office and Scottish Executive, June 2006 Back

8   Ibid., p.7 Back

9   Ibid., p.9 Back

10   Q 31 [Ms. Patel] Back

11   Tackling Human Trafficking - Summary of responses, op.cit. , p.14.  Back

12   Ibid., p.8.  Back

13   Ibid., p.10.  Back

14   Ibid., pp.10-11.  Back

15   Ibid., pp.13-14.  Back

16   Q 66 [Ms. Joshi] Back

17   Tackling Human Trafficking - Summary of responses, op.cit., p. 12. Back

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Prepared 13 October 2006