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. 

CASES

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.

ACTION & RESPONSE 

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. 

HELPLINE & AWARENESS DAY 

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.

BINATIONAL TRAFFICKING HOTLINE:  https://contratados.org/es/node/35331 

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.

Anti-Slavery Day, 18th October 2021

As an estimated 40 million people worldwide are still trapped in modern slavery, October 18th marked another Anti-Slavery Day in the UK. Over the whole of 2020, 10,613 potential modern slavery victims were referred into the UK’s National Referral Mechanism, but the true number of victims is estimated to be much higher.

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: https://humantraffickingexperts.com/main/signup.

Human Trafficking One of the Top Concerns for Financial Institutions

BAE Systems has recently published ‘The 2021 Global State of Anti-Money Laundering Report: Is compliance creating an industry own goal?’. The report identifies that human trafficking is one of the top 5 biggest concerns for financial institutions such as banks and insurers.

The report, quoting the UNODC, addresses the worsening of the ‘trend’ human trafficking caused by the pandemic, with lockdowns and curfews driving crime underground and limiting the abilities of NGOs and governments to help victims.

Findings from the report highlights that 77% of compliance teams are not confident in stopping crimes linked to human trafficking, and 81% said the same about crimes linked to sexual exploitation.

You can find the full report on the BAE Systems website here.

‘A Long Way from Vietnam’ – Philippa Southwell discussed the National Referral Mechanism on the BBC Radio 4 documentary

Philippa Southwell, HTMSE’s founder, has appeared on the BBC Radio 4 documentary ‘A Long Way from Vietnam’ alongside the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and others, where she discussed the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.

The programme is presented by BBC journalist Nga Pham and explores why irregular Vietnamese migration is the second highest into the UK and delves into the experiences of migrants through discussions with the Vietnamese community, lawyers, police officers and the Minister for Immigration.

Approximately 70% of Philippa’s client base is currently Vietnamese. In the programme, Philippa discussed her own experience with the NRM and the delays faced by her clients in receiving their determinations – having to sometimes wait for months and even years for a confirmation of their trafficking status.

‘A Long Way from Vietnam’ was broadcast on 24th August 2021 and will be repeated on the 29th August. It can also be accessed on the BBC Sounds website.

HTMSE’s Philippa Southwell will be lecturing on modern slavery compliance and ethical supply chains

‘Forced Labour in Supply Chains’ event, organised by women’s rights organisation Romildamor, will be held on 12th August 2021. Philippa Southwell, HTMSE’s founder, will be attending and speaking on modern slavey compliance and ethical supply chains during the panel discussion along with Katharine Bryan, who is a Modern Slavery Research and Policy Manager at the Walk Free Foundation.

The discussion will address the issues of modern slavery and human trafficking in supply chains, their existence in the fashion industries, as well as business human rights and measures to rectify human rights violations in supply chains.

To sign up and for further information about the event, please see here.

Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Publishes the Annual Modern Slavery Report for 2020-2021

Dame Sara Thornton, UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has published the 2020-2021 Annual Report. The report sets out the work of the Commissioner using the strategic plan presented before parliament in October 2019. However, the report also reflects on the challenges, including the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and UK exit from the EU.

The report highlights that progress has been made, as well as the drawbacks, such as successful prosecution of perpetrators remaining infrequent. The Commissioner emphasises the need for research which could contribute more to the practical understanding of what works in terms of victims support and prosecution of offenders.

Particularly, the report underscores the need for protection of victims who commit criminal offences as a direct consequence of their trafficking. According to the report, child exploitation in county lines remains prevalent, though the possibility of criminal exploitation is not being considered at the start of an investigation risking victims being wrongly prosecuted. However, non-prosecution alone does not protect children or vulnerable adults; effective safeguarding is needed instead, the report indicates.

For the full findings of the report, please see here.