UN report details trafficking convictions fall 25% over the past five years, despite the rising number of victims

A report by the UN has found convictions for human trafficking in Europe has fallen by a quarter, despite an increase in the number of victims. The report found 742 people in Europe were convicted in 2016 for trafficking offences, compared to 988 convictions in 2011. Whereas the number of identified victims increased from 4,248 to 4,429 over the same period.

Kevin Bales, professor of contemporary slavery at the University of Nottingham, comments that many factors could reflect on the decline of convictions; such as border controls tightening across Europe, and a general failure to recognise the victims of trafficking. Kevin Bales explains:

Those who might have been detected as victims of a crime in the past in a lot of western European countries, are now being treated as not victims of a crime but as illegal migrants and are being deported that way.

The convictions either are hard to make, under some of the newer slavery and trafficking laws, or they are choosing to prosecute under a statute with which they are more likely to get a successful prosecution. Authorities may instead pursue a conviction for crimes such as grievous bodily harm, where evidence may be easier to gather.

The Global Slavery Index

In the UK, the Global Slavery Index indicates that there are 136,000 estimated people living in modern slavery. Globally, is it estimated that 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery in 2016. Global Slavery Index Stats detail:

  • 71% of victims are women, with 29% being men
  • 24.9 million involved in forced labour
  • Top five products at risk of modern slavery include; tech (laptops, mobiles phones, computers) garments, fish, cocoa, and sugarcane.

Inconsistencies in data

However, data is inconsistent. UK government believe there are on average 13,000 victims of slavery in UK. Statistics from the National Crime Agency, which detail the number of people passed onto the National Referral Mechanism that are identified as victims of slavery and granted statutory support, gives a general idea of what kinds of slavery are most prevalent: but doesn’t paint a full picture.

For every victim identified through police procedure, there will be many others who are not found, or not willing to come forward for fear of being deported, or fear of authorities.

Statistics on slavery from the National Crime Agency

In 2017, 5,145 potential victims were referred to the NRM- a 35% increase from 2016 figures. The results detailed people from 116 different nationalities.

Between April to June 2018, National Referral Mechanism statistics show:

  • 1658 potential victims were submitted to the NRM
  • Potential victims of trafficking originating from 81 different countries
  • Nationals from Albania, UK, and Vietnam remain the most commonly reported
  • Most recorded exploitation type for potential victims for adults was labour exploitation


Between 2017 and 2018, more than 5,000 potential victims of modern slavery were referred via RMS to the CPS, but only 239 suspects were charged with modern slavery offences- a 27% increase from the year before.  The Crown Prosecution Service details that referrals to the CPS from police and other agencies have also risen by a third.

Industries identified at most risk in the UK:

  • Construction
  • Hotel and restaurants
  • Car washes
  • Care homes
  • Nail bars
  • Agriculture

Modern Slavery

Modern slavery is an umbrella term, which covers: forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices, as well as human trafficking. Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation where a victim feels they cannot leave or refuse due to threats, coercion, deception, abuse, or violence.

Human Trafficking is defined in the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol to have three steps:

  1. Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons;
  2. By means of 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;
  3. With the intent of exploiting that person through: prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery (or similar practices), servitude, and removal of organs.

Slavery and Slavery-like practices:

The 1926 Slavery Convention defines slavery as the status or condition of a person whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised. Slavery-like practices include debt bondage, servile or forced marriage, the sale or exploitation or children, and descent based slavery.

Prosecutions are brought under the following:

  • Asylum and Immigration Act 2004, which specifically relates to trafficking people for exploitation.
  • The Immigration Act 1971 provides for the offence for assisting or facilitating unlawful immigration.
  • Charges can be brought under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
  • The trafficked individual is considered exploited if rights are breached in the Human Rights Act 1998.

Our services:

In 2018 Ison Harrison solicitors represented a defendant in Operation Angelstoke. The operation was the most complex investigation into human trafficking conducted by West Yorkshire Police and the combined length of the trials exceeded three months. As a result of our involvement in Operation Angelstoke and other trafficking investigations the firm have a knowledge base and level of experience which is unparalleled in West Yorkshire.

There are many areas of human trafficking- criminal defence, immigration, employment, child care and human rights legislation. Typically these cases can be long and complex, with detailed investigations and cross jurisdictions. It is therefore paramount to seek specialist legal advice.

Cases of this nature need early intervention from legal specialists. Complex defences and legal arguments can greatly affect the outcome of the case- it is vital that effective, tactical, proactive preparation for a complex case begins immediately.

Clients will benefit from our bespoke skills, resources and intelligent articulation of complex areas of law.  We have a duty to tailor our service to the needs of your individual case: acting on sensitivity and confidentiality.

Contact Ison Harrison for free confidential legal advice.

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