Joint Committee On Human Rights Twenty-Sixth Report

4  The scale and nature of human trafficking in the UK

The UK as a destination and transit country

77. We received no evidence to suggest that the UK is a source state for human trafficking. While there are indications that the UK has been used as a transit country—Anti-Slavery International said that some unaccompanied asylum seeking children had been taken on to other EU member states after arrival in the UK[103] —research conducted thus far into the scale and nature of trafficking in human beings indicates that, perhaps due to its geographical location on the edge of Europe, the UK is primarily a destination state for victims, rather than a transit country in trafficking routes.[104] This contrasts with Italy, for example, which is a significant entry point into the EU as well as a destination in its own right.[105] Evidence suggests that some people are brought directly to the UK. Meanwhile, others are brought to the UK in stages and exploited in transit states before ultimately arriving here. It is reported that the majority of people trafficked into the UK originate from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, or from the Far East, particularly China and Thailand.[106] Recently, the UK has also seen a growing trend in trafficking for sexual exploitation involving persons brought to the UK from within the EU, Lithuania and other newly-acceded Eastern European states in particular.

Scale and extent of the problem

78. The vast majority of the evidence submitted to this inquiry referred to the lack of reliable statistics on the scale of trafficking activity, be it locally, regionally or globally. Nonetheless, there was a consensus that, from the information available, trafficking into the UK occurs on a scale that merits serious attention by the authorities.[107] Home Office research from 2000 gave a widely varying estimate of between 142 and 1,420 women trafficked in to the UK in 1998.[108] The Home Office is currently conducting further research into UK organised crime markets. Though this has not yet been published, the Government told us that it showed that there were an estimated 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK during 2003 at any one time.[109] Because the research has not yet been published, we have not been able to judge the validity of this figure. We note that there are no reliable estimates for the numbers of children or adult men who have been trafficked into the UK for labour exploitation purposes.

79. In the absence of reliable statistics outlining the scale of the trafficking problem, a number of submissions sought to extrapolate estimates from other potentially relevant data, e.g. relating to unaccompanied minors, private fostering, or non-UK sex workers. In addition, much of the oral evidence provided by witnesses was based on anecdote and extrapolated from estimates and statistics pertaining to related phenomenon, such as migration data (including both legal and illegal entry), visas granted for domestic work, or involvement in prostitution.[110]

80. Much of the oral evidence provided also focused on levels of demand as a measure of the sex industry, and thus of trafficking for sexual purposes:

"What we have tried to do is look at the scale of the sex industry and that gives you a reasonable picture of what is likely to happen in terms of women being trafficked in for that industry. Recently we did some work looking at the sex industry and we saw about 264,000 men spending at least £6.6 million per year on saunas, flats, et cetera. That was taken from some work through Punternet where men talk about their experience of buying sex. Certainly we are finding that the sex industry is expanding in lap dancing, limousine services, takeaway services, and as long as you have got that expansion you are likely to have women trafficked in to fulfil those services."[111]

81. Referrals from the Poppy Project in some ways provide the most reliable figures on the numbers of identified victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK, since they relate to actual women who have been encountered. Between March 2003 and May 2006, 489 referrals were made to the scheme, 99 women were accepted for accommodation and support, and 25 women were provided with outreach services.[112] However, the scheme operates mainly in London, has tightly focused criteria, and depends upon self- or official referral. As a result, there is reason to suspect that the number of victims nationwide will be significantly higher, and indeed may well be higher than the estimated 4,000 provided by the Home Office.[113] The suggestion that the number of women being trafficked for prostitution into the UK is on the increase seems to be corroborated by the fact that "whereas 10 years ago 85% of women in brothels were UK citizens, now 85% were from outside UK."[114]

82. Deficiencies in information on the scale and nature of the problem of human trafficking have caused difficulties throughout our inquiry. While intelligence suggests that there has been an increase in the trafficking problem over the last two or three years, it remains difficult to make an accurate assessment of the scale of the problem. In part, this is due to a lack of co-ordination between the agencies involved in gathering intelligence of, and responding to, trafficking (both nationally and internationally).[115] However, due to the clandestine and secretive nature of trafficking activity, it is also apparent that some of the difficulties with data gathering will persist, despite the potential for improvement offered by more coherent inter-agency cooperation.[116] It is hoped that the establishment of the UK Human Trafficking Centre, together with the recent reforms generated by the establishment of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, will assist in ensuring better procedures for co-ordinated intelligence gathering and sharing. As the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Office, Vernon Coaker MP, told us:

"We know that we need to do more to find out the scale of the problem. We know anecdotally; from evidence that immigration officials pick up; from social services; from the work that Operation Pentameter has done; and we know from all the non-government organisations that there is an issue with respect to child trafficking. We are trying to find out the scale of the problem and what more we need to do, and that is why we have commissioned this piece of research."[117]

We urge the Government to publish the research into organised crime markets currently being conducted by Home Office researchers, which may assist in providing a clearer picture of the scale and extent of human trafficking into the UK. We foresee however a probable need for further follow-up research to be conducted to scope the problem in relation to all forms of trafficking, and we urge the Government to give priority to such research in order to give a more solid basis for the development of anti-trafficking policy.

Types of trafficking

83. One way of analysing the problem of human trafficking is by examining the underlying purpose that the traffickers have for bringing a particular victim into the UK. The two themes of sexual and labour exploitation are particularly prominent here but it would be a mistake to conceive of the two as mutually exclusive: "we must note that children who are trafficked, no matter what purpose they are trafficked for, become extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation even though they may not have been trafficked with that as the original intent."[118]

84. Before turning to consider these in more detail, it is heartening to note that, despite including organ trafficking within our remit, no evidence suggesting that this occurs in the UK was provided to us during this inquiry. Deputy Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, the Programme Director of Operation Pentameter, told us:

"During Operation Pentameter no information or intelligence came to light, or when we were doing Reflex operations, that there was organ farming taking place in the UK. There is information that it takes place in other parts of the world."[119]


85. Labour exploitation takes place across a range of sectors, specifically agriculture, construction, contract cleaning, domestic work and the care sector.[120] The Chinese cockle-pickers who died at Morecambe Bay provide a vivid and tragic illustration of this phenomenon. The quality of information regarding trafficking of persons into the UK for labour exploitation is even less adequate than that relating to trafficking for sexual purposes.

86. Of particular concern to those who submitted evidence to this inquiry were domestic workers, the majority of whom are "brought in as live-in workers, so they are particularly vulnerable."[121] A typical picture involves a woman who has a family at home and has taken the decision to leave that family, travel to a different side of the world and, often, care for someone else's children.[122] The issue arises when women arrive at their work and are treated unacceptably. Ms Kate Roberts, a community support worker with the NGO Kalayaan which assists migrant domestic workers in the UK, said that during August 2004 and August 2005:

"we registered 114 new migrant domestic workers at Kalayaan. Of these 114 individuals 65 of them - so well over half - had had their passports withheld by their employer … I think the psychological abuse is really, really important because domestic workers are living in their employer's household and they are constantly being told they are an animal and they are stupid, and they cannot escape from that because they are living in the house, often for years. More than one-third were not allowed to leave the house, and over half, again, 57 per cent, did not have their own room within the house, which meant they were sleeping in a public space in the house - sometimes in the children's bedroom but we often register people who have been sleeping under the kitchen table or in the lounge, which means that they are working on call; they cannot shut the door and go home."[123]


87. Notwithstanding the evidence available on the exploitation of migrant domestic workers, "the ILO has estimated that in developed countries the predominant form of forced labour is commercial sexual exploitation."[124] It would certainly appear from the evidence provided to our inquiry that trafficking for forced prostitution is the dominant form in the UK. Despite some indications that traffickers are becoming more subtle, for example using 'boyfriend' type relationships to lure women rather than overt violence and coercion, it is clear that victims of sexual exploitation often suffer the most horrific and brutal treatment. The stories of women at the POPPY Project speak for themselves.[125] It is important to raise awareness of the fact that many of these women would not become involved in prostitution without coercion or duress:

"I think [the argument that women enter prostitution of their own volition] also shows a misunderstanding of the nature of prostitution. If you look at how prostitution is organised, most of the Glasgow women and ordinary Belfast women will be involved in prostitution because they have a debt which is owed, so they are debt bonded quite often to the owner of the brothel. One sauna in Glasgow in particular advertised that on its website as a particular feature because it ensured confidentiality and it said all their staff were bonded. There is no explanation for that other than they were debt bonded. Those women would all say, if interviewed, "Yes, I am doing this freely, I am not being coerced" but we know that there is coercion and debt there."[126]

88. Generally, prostitution takes place "off-street"[127] and evidence relating to brothel owners "sharing women and moving women from city to city" is extensive, but anecdotal.[128]

Legal and illegal migration

89. The theme of indebtedness runs throughout the techniques used by traffickers to exploit people. This debt often arises under the guise of recouping the travel costs incurred in bringing them to the UK.[129] Initial estimates arising from the victims rescued during Operation Pentameter, an enforcement operation described further in Chapter 5 below, are that about 60% arrived in the UK illegally, which means that 40% found themselves in these terrible situations despite having arrived in the country legally.[130] Operation Pentameter discovered 84 people deemed to be victims of trafficking. Of these 25 were from European states, and mainly from EU member states.[131] Acknowledging the reality that many victims of trafficking have entered the UK legally is important, not only in terms of ensuring an appropriate response that accords with their entitlements, but also in terms of preventing a misguided diversion into talk of illegal migration in the context of people trafficking. Where people enter the UK legally but find themselves working in the sex trade, which is, of course, not legal employment, they continue to experience considerable vulnerability.

Who are the traffickers?

90. There appears to be a strong relationship between people trafficking activity and organised criminal networks. Evidence submitted to us suggested, for example, that those involved in trafficking tend to be "split between people from the Far East, the Chinese gangs, and eastern European gangs".[132] As a result, knowledge of criminal networks is becoming increasingly integral to understanding human trafficking.[133] The inauguration of the new Serious Organised Crime Agency will increase the prospect for success in this area, although it was noted in evidence that criminal gangs tend to be remarkably resilient. In addition, there are also some indications of more informal instances of trafficking - in situations of sex trafficking, this can often involve a boyfriend or partner figure. In the case of trafficking in children for domestic service it can often involve a family member or community friend. The child may have been sold into debt bondage by their family, which raises serious problems with returning the child to their country of origin. In other cases there may be cultural practices under which a child lives with a relative and performs domestic duties in return for their education, or food being paid for.

91. The methods of recruitment used by traffickers are also considerably diverse, ranging from grooming and befriending, through deception about the nature or conditions of work in the country of destination, to outright coercion and violence. Often, it seems that a combination of these techniques will be deployed both to recruit and then to maintain control over victims of trafficking thereafter. While in some cases, those who have organised the person's transportation will continue to maintain direct control over that person on arrival, in other cases (usually where there is a more complex and organised network involved), they will be 'sold on' to another person who will exercise similar control strategies to exploit them.

Who is being trafficked?

92. ILO estimates confirm that trafficking into developed countries predominantly takes place for sexual exploitation, and that some 98% of those involved in prostitution as a result are women. Nonetheless, there is also evidence which suggests that trafficking in men and boys occurs for the purposes of sexual exploitation, albeit significantly less often. In addition, the TUC and the Centre for Migration Studies, having looked at forced labour across the construction, agricultural, contract cleaning and care sectors found that, certainly as far as construction was concerned, the victims involved were exclusively male. In agriculture, there was a mixture of men and women involved. As far as domestic and care sectors are concerned, it is predominantly women.[134]

93. There was also considerable evidence presented to us of trafficking in children. While there is no doubt that girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation, NGOs and children's charities suggest that trafficking for the purposes of domestic servitude is more common. NGOs identify a particular problem with children coming from within African communities for this purpose,[135] and they also identify the trafficking in children from Eastern Europe and East Asia.[136] One issue which arises in regard to children relates to age disputes. Yet evidence provided to us during this inquiry suggests that this problem is not as intractable as it might seem: "there are psychological and social work assessments you can get to determine the age of the child … We have got very experienced social workers … it is not that onerous to establish the age of a child."[137]

94. In addition, evidence emphasised the importance of not taking figures relating to adult trafficking at face value, since although "at the time of identification the woman was over 18, they may well have been under 18 and signalling a trend in child trafficking much earlier on."[138]

Trafficking push and pull factors

95. Factors such as globalisation, poverty and humanitarian crises all impact on the problem of human trafficking. Ms Christine Beddoe, Director of ECPAT UK, said that the vulnerability of victims stems from "the much broader issue of poverty, lack of opportunity and gender inequality [in the country of origin] so we have to discuss prevention strategies among a much broader framework."[139] Trafficked children often "come from countries where there is civil unrest so they are orphans and the issue of consent is problematic for our job but particularly for them."[140] In addition, an example given by the TUC shows that structures of debt bondage ensure that problems relating to poverty can persist in the UK for some time:

"One example I can think of is 24 Polish citizens who were brought into this country on the basis that they would be working for £10 an hour, which in Polish terms is a tidy sum of money, and found themselves working supposedly on the minimum wage but, in fact, having unlawful deductions from that sum. As one of them said to me, the problem is they have to somehow make it work because what savings they had they actually spent in coming to this country, but they are constantly in a poverty trap and, because of linguistic problems as well, they are finding it very hard to break away from the employer."[141]

96. With regard to trafficking for labour, one witness argued that restrictive immigration laws and policies within the UK cause a shortage of low-paid domestic workers, whereas "if those people were allowed to come in legally there would not be so much demand for traffickers to feed off".[142] While this may be true in some situations, there was also evidence submitted which indicated that the problem lay more with the demand rather than the supply side of the dynamic, and in particular with the demand amongst unscrupulous employers and 'punters' for trafficked women.[143] This was exemplified in the labour trafficking context by the following example also submitted by the TUC:

"We came across a group of Portuguese workers in Lincolnshire - so these are not even A8 entrants; they had had a legal right to live and work in this country for years, entirely unfettered - and they told us that they had had to buy fake Portuguese passports to pretend to their employers that they were illegal Brazilian immigrants pretending to be Portuguese, so that the employer would employ them knowing that they were illegal and therefore were more exploitable, rather than saying to the employer: 'I am a legal migrant; I have a perfect right to be here, just pay me my wages.'"[144]

EU expansion and its possible implications

97. Of the 84 victims rescued during Operation Pentameter, "about 25 were from European countries. One or two were from the emerging European countries, but the vast majority were from member states or people already within the EU."[145] While the impact of the impending accession to the EU of Romania and Bulgaria cannot be predicted, there is a concern that it will pose new challenges in the context of people trafficking :

"Obviously, if the EU enlarges and people migrate, it is a different situation than if they are coming outside of the EU. The important point to make is that when dealing with people in these situations, although legally there are differences we try to take a victim-centred approach to people who come before us … This is a new area of work, something that five or ten years ago perhaps people very rarely talked of; but it is a major challenge for us, and we are determined to do what we can to meet it."[146]

On our visit to Italy we were told that Romania was one of the main source countries for women trafficked into Italy for sexual exploitation. During that visit two members of the Committee went out with night-time outreach teams and found that Romanian women made up a significant proportion of those on the streets. We are concerned that criminal gangs from Romania and Bulgaria could make use of the expansion of the EU and freedom of movement provisions to traffic girls and women into the UK from these countries with greater ease. We urge the Government to work with these countries to inform and educate girls and women of the dangers that arise from accepting "job opportunities" without going through the proper channels.

103   Appendix 11 Back

104   Q 85 Back

105   Q 124 Back

106   Q 85 Back

107   Appendices 11, 14 and 21 Back

108   Liz Kelly and Linda Regan, Stopping Traffic: Exploring the Extent of, and responses to, trafficking in women for sexual exploitation in the UK, Home Office Police Research Series Paper 125, 2000 Back

109   Appendix 1, para. 11 Back

110   Qq 53, 65, 78, 89 Back

111   Q 3 Back

112   Appendix 23 Back

113   Ibid. Back

114   Q 19 Back

115   Appendices 14 and 21 Back

116   Q 10 Back

117   Q 89. See generally Qq 85-92. Back

118   Q 21 Back

119   Q 93 Back

120   Q 53 Back

121   Q 193 [Ms Roberts]. It is important to keep in mind, however, that migrant domestic workers cannot be regarded as victims of trafficking in accordance with international definitions if they voluntarily come to the UK to perfom domestic work, unless they are deceived as to the nature of their work and/or are forcibly transported to the UK to perform domestic work against their will. In the case of children, their transportation for the purpose of exploitation is itself to be regarded as trafficking even when it does not involve coercion or deception, in accordance with Article 3(c) of the Trafficking Protocol, Article 4 (c) of the Council of Europe Convention and Article 1(3) of the EU Framework Decision. Back

122   Q 165 Back

123   Q 166 Back

124   Q 53 Back

125   Appendix 23 Back

126   Q 13 [Ms Hamilton] Back

127   Q 4 Back

128   Q 6 [Ms Hamilton] Back

129   See "Katerina's story", Appendix 23. Back

130   Q 96 Back

131   Q 95 [DCC Maxwell] Back

132   Ibid. Back

133   Q 121 Back

134   Q 53 Back

135   Q 21 Back

136   Appendix 14. Back

137   Q 35 Back

138   Q 25 [Ms Beddoe] Back

139   Q 24 Back

140   Ibid. Back

141   Q 162 [Mr Bamford] Back

142   Q 62 Back

143   Q 97 Back

144   Q 181 Back

145   Q 95 [DCC Maxwell] Back

146   Ibid. Back

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