World Day Against Trafficking In Persons 2023

Today marks World Day Against Trafficking In Persons 2023. The ILO estimates there are 24.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons released in January this year indicates that the Coronavirus pandemic and other crises around the world increased the vulnerability of human trafficking victims, yet fewer victims of modern slavery are being identified. In many developing countries, public sector capacity to respond to modern slavery have been weakened.

In the UK, from its world leading position in the fight against modern slavery, the political framework has posed challenges to the fight against human trafficking. Over the last 12 months since Brexit, we have seen increasing numbers of modern slavery due to larger supply chains providing more chance for exploitation. However, the UK has now put hundreds of modern slavery cases on hold from the National Referral Mechanism while government draws up new instructions for officials in light of the Illegal Immigration Bill.

Within HTMSE’s network in the UK and around the world, there are many organisations, legal professionals and trafficking experts who are working tirelessly to protect those who are subjected to the heinous crime of human trafficking. This World Day Against Trafficking In Persons HTMSE invites professionals and organisations who are not yet signed up to join this network to help create a streamlined response to cases of human trafficking and modern slavery.

The Illegal Immigration Bill

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) has released new statistics which illustrates the high number of victims of slavery that are bound up in those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Overall, 2022 statistics are high – beginning from the increase in small boat arrivals picked up by first responders at the UK border, to the Duty to Notify process seeing the highest number of reports ever to the Home Office (4,580) – to the highest number of potential victims of modern slavery recorded through the NRM ever (16,938), a 33% increase since the prior year. As such the highest number of slavery cases were recorded in 2022. 88% of reasonable grounds cases (17,000) and 89% of conclusive grounds cases (6,000) that were considered by the competent authorities were deemed positive. This shows that the majority of cases claimed to be slavery, are indeed slavery, and the UK Modern Slavery Act plays a critical role in international human rights justice for those seeking asylum.

Imbedded with political issues surrounding high numbers of immigrants entering the UK, fears arise around the exploitation of this system that is designed to protect victims. 

According to NRM statistics, for the first year Albanian nationals were the highest number of referrals per nationality, exceeding UK nationals at 25%, mostly being child potential victims of slavery. Albanian nationals accounted for 27% of potential victims of modern slavery, mostly being adults, and many arriving via small boats to UK shores. This has given rise to backlash at the statistics with rhetoric suggesting Albanian refugees are ‘claiming to be slavery victims’ using the UK Modern Slavery Act. However, migrants also from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria arriving in small boats are usually unable to access visas, passports or conventional safe routes of immigration and are therefore highly vulnerable to the exploitation of human traffickers.

For further information, see the Home Office National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify statistics UK, end of year summary 2022.

Landmark Lawsuit against Tesco for Forced Labour found in Thai Supply Chain

Burmese workers producing F&F Jeans and other clothing for Thai company VKG were subject to conditions of forced labour when supplying the Thai branch of Tesco between 2017-2020. This included illegal pay rates such as £3 per day, employees subject to 99 hour working weeks, ill working conditions such as outdated machinery causing injuries to the employees, and the employer tampering with wage records through control of employee bank cards. In 2020, 136 VKG workers were dismissed when asking to be paid the minimum wage, leading to the inquiry into modern slavery within VKG.

During investigations, police and Thai officials are accused of contrived interviews. It took only one day to interview 114 ex-VKG workers, where victims’ statements were allegedly deleted, they were rushed and ‘cut off’ from finishing sentences. NGOs witnessing the interviews observed that due process was not followed and interviews were ineffective, suggesting they were conducted for appearance rather than to obtain true conclusions of the safety of the VKG employees working conditions.

This landmark lawsuit against Tesco for ‘negligence and unjust enrichment’ is brought forward by Oliver Holland, partner at Leigh Day, representing 130 workers formerly employed by VKG, as well as a 7 year old daughter of an employee who was raped on factory grounds. Tesco does not have day to day dealings with the factory, yet the corporation has encouraged its suppliers to reimburse their employers, and commented on previous compensation paid to VKG workers by the Thai labour court. However, within the remit of the UK, Tesco will face repercussions against the UK Modern Slavery Act for forced labour found within their supply chain. It is critical for corporations to be held accountable for modern slavery within their global supply chains in order to address the profits gained from inequality and human rights abuses.

For the full Guardian reports, see here:,Thai%20police%20accused%20of%20′sham’%20forced%20labour,inquiry%20at%20former%20Tesco%20supplier&text=Thai%20police%20have%20been%20accused,conclude%20no%20laws%20were%20broken.

Increase of Forced Labour at European Holiday Destinations

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) records that 20.8 million victims of forced labour are exploited by private enterprise worldwide. Since the reopening of the tourism industry post the coronavirus pandemic, seasonal employment at holiday destinations is under significant strain. This has led to an increase in forced labour in the tourism and hospitality industries of Greece and Cyprus. 

The World Travel and Tourism Council indicates that in 2019 Greece made €18 billion from tourism. The following two seasons impeded by lockdowns and international travel restrictions  have meant relatively null revenue. Since 2019, the Greek tourism industry has a labour shortage of 50,000 employees. Thousands of high-skilled hospitality and tourism workers lost jobs throughout the pandemic, or were forced to move to other industries since hospitality hours and wages would not cover the cost of living amongst inflation and high gas prices. However, with tourism rates back to pre-pandemic status in this years summer season, those who held onto jobs were forced to compensate for the labour shortage by working in extreme conditions with no days off. Staff worked 12-18 hour days, 7 days a week with no insurance, and many work in dangerous conditions. Furthermore, employers are shifting to recruit migrant workers without necessarily the language skills or experience needed for the jobs, which makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation. There have been reports of employers providing ‘rotten food’, terrible working conditions and taking the tips of their employees. 

Some sectors including hoteliers, and as of June 2022 the hospitality industry, have a collective labour agreement which theoretically protects the rights of workers through fixed terms of employment and pay. However despite the mandate for authorities to hold regular inspections and issue fines for overworking or mistreatment of staff, reports suggest there are shortfalls in the Greek Labour Inspectorate itself, therefore inspections are rare. For example the island of Rhodes has only 2 inspectors. 

Governments of both Greece and Cyprus have looked to solve their labour issues by offering employment to Ukrainian refugees and migrants from non-Eu countries living in migrant camps, of whom 30,000 have social security and VAT numbers. As of June 2022, Cyprus issued 800 foreign labour permits and Greece will adopt this model for the 2023 tourist season. 

However both Greece and Cyprus have been spotlighted by cases of modern slavery pre the pandemic. In 2017 Greece was found to violate ‘Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights by not preventing human trafficking of irregular migrant workers’ in their agricultural sector, which was exposed through a case of violence against migrant workers picking strawberries.  In 2019, an ex-army serial killer exposed the exploitative system of migrants engaged in domestic work in Cyprus. Due to the migrant status of the women, their disappearances were not pursued diligently by authorities. This highlights the lack of regulation and structural protection for migrants in both countries, leaving those coming to work in the tourism sector also at risk of modern slavery in the form of forced labour, debt bondage, or coercive recruitment

Although both countries have the agenda to prevent labour exploitation, the economic and social pressure of the pandemic increased pressure on these issues. Employing migrant workers may offer a solution to the labour shortages, however the working conditions, pay and welfare of both domestic and foreign workers must be protected and regulated according to international standards. As well as violating fundamental human rights, the ILO highlights that forced labour is a ‘significant cause of poverty and hindrance to economic development’. 


Anti-Slavery Day 2022

Marking Anti-Slavery Day 2022, approximately 49.6 million people globally live in conditions of slavery according to figures by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Of these, 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 state imposed forced labour. 

HTMSE continues to support modern slavery victims and professionals, assisting them by connecting victims with experts in modern slavery across all areas of practice.

We encourage anyone, whether a professional, NGO, charity, business, lawyer, medical practitioner, or other expert or specialist organisation not listed in the HTMSE directory to sign up to create a profile by following this link:

UK Home Office Statistical Report on Modern Slavery 2021

The 2021 Home Office annual report on modern slavery identifies nearly 13,000 victims, as well as a shift in profile of victims and the worst kinds of threats, with labour and criminal exploitation currently the most common forms of modern slavery in the UK. 2021 indicates the highest number of victims reported to the NRM per year since it was initiated in 2009. This is a 20% increase from 2020 where 10,601 victims were identified, close in number to 2019 when 10,611 victims were identified. The number of referrals to the NRM has been steadily increasing year by year, however the rapid increase in 2021 is potentially linked to the rise in cases related to county lines drug gangs.

The increase in cases related to county lines gangs accounts for 16% of cases reported to the NRM, of which most were male victims. This targeted gender accounts for the change in common modern slavery victim profile, with 77% of victims (9,790) being male. 23% of victims (2,923) were female. Alarmingly, 43% of referrals (5,468) were minors, due to high rates of child criminal exploitation. The common demographic of victims by nationality in 2021 were majority UK citizens at 30%, followed by Albanian nationals at 20% and Vietnamese nationals at 8%. The majority of the exploitation occurred in the UK, in the form of labour abuse and criminal exploitation, for example in the illicit drug trade.

These statistics are reported from October 2020 – September 2021, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, due to the coercive nature of modern slavery, these figures do not reflect the actual number of victims recorded. CEO of NGO Unseen UK, Andrew Wallis OBE highlights that 1 in 5 victims of modern slavery chose not to engage with the NRM in the 2021 reporting year, bringing the total number of victims up to nearly 16,000. Engagement with the NRM is vital for victims to be recognised by the state as victims of modern slavery, and have access to protection and support. This means 3190, approximately one fifth of modern slavey victims identified by frontline and border authorities under the Duty to Notify (DtN) process, are still vulnerable to re-trafficking or further exploitation in society. This trend to deny referral to the NRM is 47% higher than 2020, suggesting a rise in mistrust in authorities that prevents victims from receiving the medical, psychological care and justice they are entitled to.

For the full Home Office statistical report for 2021, see here.

Exploitation in Mexico’s Tourism Industry

Two year old boy carries items for sale along beach to attract tourists
Two year old boy carries items for sale along beach to attract tourists

As well as the illicit drug trade, Mexico is increasingly known as a global destination for sexual tourism controlled by the organised crime cartels. Beneath this lies systemic issues with sex trafficking and various forms of labour exploitation of adults and children. Despite being a despicable crime, sexual exploitation is seen as a profitable business because “you can only sell a drug once, but you can sell a woman countless times”, quoting Mario Hidalgo Garfias, a convicted human trafficker from Mexico City in 2015. 


Significant cases that have brought the Mexican sex tourism industry to light are the raids in Toluca in November 2017 where 24 foreign women, mostly Venezuelans were released from captivity in a ‘spa’ that offered prostitution. Under similar circumstances, on 30th of July 2020 Mexican Federal Police raids on spas in Cancun and Playa del Carmen freed 21 women (21-25 years old) leading to charges against 12 human traffickers. This case gained media attention due to protests erupting in the aftermath of the raid, which shined light on the chronic issue of impunity in Mexico. 

In both cases, these women have traveled to Mexico on tourist visas, under the promise of highly paid legitimate jobs, and then forced into sex work under the threat of violence, fraud, force or control. These control mechanisms of exploitation are also present in other Mexican industries such as agriculture, domestic service, child care, manufacturing, mining, food processing, construction, tourism, begging, and street vending, compromising vulnerable women, children, men and gender fluid people. 

Most trafficking victims are migrants from as far as Europe, as well as neighbouring countries in Central and South America, particularly El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and high numbers from Venezuela where ongoing political turmoil makes women and children vulnerable to exploitation. Reports of child sexual exploitation is an increasing problem in northern Mexico, where homeless or orphan children are of high risk, and in several cases parents are complicit in the exploitation of their children. Transgender communities of all ages are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The US Department of State reports the users of sexual tourism generally travel from the USA, Canada and Western Europe, and occasionally include Mexican Nationals. 

Whilst on vacation, many tourists purchase memorabilia clothing and other items without hesitation from sellers on the beach. HTMSE is alarmed to see the high number of minors being used in the familiar context in conditions that contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many minors are being forced into labour, carrying heavy goods in sweltering heats including clothing, coconuts, and food. Many are laden with huge weights of goods, and are being used to attract tourists to purchase these items. These are not conducive conditions for a child. Tourists are fuelling and normalising this practice, whereas in their country of origin it would be illegal, for example in Britain parents could face prosecution.

It is evident that the internet is increasingly used as a vice for trafficking, either via recruitment on social media, or using crypto-currencies to launder payment. This form of contact is used to anonymously set up employment related traps, target victims through false intimate partnerships, or exercise blackmail and coercion through reaching family members of the victims.


In the most recent reporting period of 2021 Mexico lies in tier 2 of the USDOS Trafficking in Persons report, meaning that it does not meet the basic requirements for combatting human trafficking. However, despite the drawback presented by the pandemic, Mexico has increased efforts since the 2020 reporting period. 

In 2020 the Mexican state investigated 332 suspected sex trafficking cases, 12 suspected forced labour cases, and 206 unspecified cases of exploitation. There were a total of 75 federal prosecutions of human traffickers, which accounts for approximately half as many as 2019. Unfortunately, this is likely due to the pandemic as federal and state courts suspended all legal proceedings between March and May 2020. This also hampered efforts of authorities to collect evidence from bars, hotels and sex tourism venues, and halted or slowed requests for information to pursue prosecutions, and disrupted intergovernmental collaboration on existing and new investigations. 

Positive efforts in the Mexican response to human trafficking included bolstering the Secretariat of Finance’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) which is a key institution to collect intelligence around trafficking investigations and prosecutions. In July 2020 a cooperation agreement was signed with the National Anti-trafficking Hotline which facilitated the collection of data from calls to trace illicit financial activity connected to trafficking. Flagging several suspicious transactions successfully led to several arrest warrants for human traffickers. 

In 2020 the Mexican state provided funding to three victim shelters run by NGOs, but overall their response lacks a victim centred approach. Most states rely on prosecutors to identify and refer victims. State agencies in partnership with NGOs offer medical care, food, and housing in temporary or transitional homes, and other services, such as psychological, and legal services, but this is heavily varied and unavailable in some parts of the country, and often excludes victims or forced labour or male victims of exploitation. 

Mexican law provides protection against forced criminality of trafficking victims, however due to issues around formal identification there are potential cases where authorities have detained or jailed victims of trafficking. This includes children involved in gang related criminal activity and migrants in detention facilities, who have been compelled to commit crimes by their traffickers. Furthermore, victims have been withheld justice due to their lack of faith in corrupt authorities and public sector officials. 

There is a significant problem of impunity in Mexico which helps to facilitate human trafficking and in turn, the sex tourism industry. The 2019 USDOS Trafficking in Persons report highlights that in at least 17 of the 32 Mexican states, there are alliances between criminal groups and federal, state and local government officials. These officials collude in trafficking crimes such as immigration officials accepting bribes to allow irregular entry of trafficking victims into Mexico, yet in other cases explicitly participate in and run sex trafficking operations. An example of law enforcement abusing their authority for sexual exploitation was seen in the case of human rights activist Karla Jacinto. In 2015 she reported that at 12 years old, she was forced into prostitution for four years and during this period when police turned up at the hotel she was held, they made the customers leave in order to film the girls in compromising positions, and blackmailed the girls into submission by threatening to send the videos to their families. In 2020, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received 6 claims of trafficking related abuses by public officials. Unlike 2019, there were no prosecutions or convictions of officials in 2020. 


A significant development in human trafficking response in Mexico is through the binational anti-trafficking hotline set up in 2015 between US’ NGO Polaris and Mexican organisation Consejo Ciudadano based in Mexico City. This collaborative approach encourages citizens to file complaints, and in 2020 reported receiving 1,931 calls related to trafficking, which led to identification of 245 victims, and resulted in 45 investigations. This binational approach is essential for a problem that crosses national borders and involves several jurisdictions. 

Furthermore, the “Corazón Azul” or Blue Heart Campaign in Mexico was set up in 2010 in partnership with UNODC which is designed as a ‘pact’ to mobilise social conscience around human trafficking, sexual and other forms of exploitation. It is composed of a set of moral principles for the public to understand and agree to. Annually, buildings are lit up blue to raise awareness. Recently in 2021 there has been significant effort through this campaign to reach indigenous communities who are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking.


Statistics pulled from the 2021 USDOS Trafficking in Persons Report. For the full report, see here. 

Human Trafficking Across Mexico – US Border

The state of modern slavery remains problematic in Mexico due to high numbers of refugees and migrants looking to transit the vast border into the USA. Exacerbated by the travel pressures of Covid 19, this long-standing problem leaves high-risk populations vulnerable to exploitation of the crime and drug Human Trafficking Across Mexico – US Border that operate across the US-Mexico border.

There are high numbers of missing people in Mexico, currently the National Search Commission records more than 940,000, many of whom are migrants who have been swept into the dangerous remit of Mexican cartels. A case in late September saw 13 migrants who were preparing to illegally cross the border into the US for job opportunities or family, disappear from Chihuahua, Mexico. Victims of trafficking are seen, like drugs and firearms, as ‘commodities’ trying to cross the border which leads to many disappearances or deaths fuelled by the violent rivalry between cartels.

Furthermore, many of those migrants or Mexican nationals who successfully reach the USA with the aid of traffickers or smugglers are being exploited for their labour. A recent case of trafficking from Monterrey, Mexico – Georgia, USA highlights the problematic agricultural industry in the USA which provides minimal protection for migrant workers, as they are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act passed in 1935, and from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Workers are subject to no-minimal pay, unsafe working environments, desolate living conditions, debt bondage, physical and mental and abuse across many farms in Southern American states, including Texas and Georgia.

HTMSE’s Managing Director, Philippa Southwell, Attended the 24-hour Conference on Global Organized Crime

HTMSE’s managing director, Philippa Southwell, attended the 24-hour Conference on Global Organized Crime, organised by Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, to give a talk on forced criminality.


The panel, titled ‘Criminalisation of victims of human trafficking – An overview of domestic and international legal frameworks post UK Modern Slavery Act 2015’, was also attended by Phil Brewer, a specialist advisor on modern slavery at the Human Trafficking Foundation.


To access a recording of the discussion, please register on the 24-hour Conference on Global Organized Crime’s website here.

Climate Change impacts exacerbating Modern Slavery, Human Trafficking and Exploitation says the Anti-Slavery Commissioner

As the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) gets underway, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has taken the opportunity to address, what she refers to as a ‘complex relationship’ between climate change and modern slavery.

In the recent publications ‘COP 26: Climate change and modern slavery’, the Commissioner brings together the research and evidence showing that climate change ‘exacerbates vulnerability to modern slavery’, primarily through to climate-induced migration but also that there is a link between slavery and sustainable production. The Commissioner took the opportunity to emphasise that environmental and social issues ‘need not be in competition with each other’.

For the full article, please see the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s website here.