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UK anti-slavery hotline identifies 4,000 potential victims in first year

A British anti-slavery helpline has received 3,000 calls since its launch last year and identified 4,000 potential victims of trafficking, forced labour, domestic servitude and sexual slavery.

Justine Currell, executive director of anti-trafficking charity Unseen, which runs the hotline, said calls had led to about 1,000 referrals to police, with some cases possibly involving multiple victims.

In one case, she said they helped a woman escape domestic servitude after she phoned to say her life had been threatened.


Another caller told the helpline about a labourer who had spent months living in a metal container at the factory where he was being exploited.

There are an estimated 13,000 victims of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude in Britain.

Currell, a former civil servant who helped draft Britain’s groundbreaking Modern Slavery Act, said information gleaned from calls would also help to prevent trafficking and slavery.

Many calls to the hotline were from people in domestic servitude, which Currell said was particularly hard to tackle because it happened behind closed doors.

Nail bars and car washes were also often reported – both sectors are known to exploit trafficking victims.

Several callers were so desperate they threatened to commit suicide, with some reporting that their enslavers had threatened to harm family members.

Currell called for better services for modern slavery survivors, including counselling and help finding accommodation and employment, as some ended up homeless.


“With some of the horrendous situations that we see, it will take some (people) years to recover,” Currell told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Britain is regarded as a leader in global efforts to combat modern slavery, which affects an estimated 40 million people worldwide, according to figures released on Tuesday.

Under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, all businesses with a turnover of more than 36 million pounds ($48.7 million) must produce a yearly statement outlining actions they have taken to combat slavery in their supply chains.

But data released on Wednesday indicated half of companies that should have produced a statement by now had not done so.

Sectors showing poor compliance included education, public administration and real estate, according to TISCreport, an open data anti-slavery register which acts as a central repository for statements.

TISCreport’s chief executive Jaya Chakrabarti said it was important for companies to share data to help other businesses monitor their own supply chains.

“It should be a no-brainer to produce a statement,” she said. “If they… say, ‘We’re doing nothing about slavery’, I think their shareholders will want to know about that, I think their investors will want to know, (and) I think Joe Public will want to know.”

Thomson Reuters Foundation