UK People Trafficking Assessment Published

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UK People Trafficking Assessment Published

Posted 30/08/2012 by Dianne Heriot

UKHTC: A Baseline Assessment on the Nature and Scale of Human Trafficking in 2011The UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) has published its first public intelligence assessment of people trafficking in the UK, A Baseline Assessment on the Nature and Scale of Human Trafficking in 2011. This is the first time that government authorities have attempted to describe the nature and scale of people trafficking in the UK. 

Part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the UKHTC is the central point for anti-trafficking expertise and coordination within the UK.  It administers the UK's National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which is both the framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and the main mechanism for data collection (the data is regularly published on its website).  The NRM was established in 2009 to help meet the UK's obligations under the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Human Trafficking.

The report draws on data held by the UKHTC and the NRM, and information provided by UK police forces, the United Kingdom Border Agency and nine non-government organisations working with victims of trafficking. It explores the number of potential victims of trafficking identified by these agencies, their countries of origin, types of exploitation, vulnerabilities, and the recruitment techniques and other methods used by the traffickers. (The UKHTC uses the terminology "potential victim" as not all of the people identified through the intelligence assessment had been determined to have been victims of trafficking by the NRM. That process is described here.)

Key findings

The UKHTC assessment found that there were 2077 potential victims of people trafficking identified in the UK in 2011, less than half of whom had been referred to the NRM. Of these,
  • 54 per cent were female, 40 per cent were male (the gender of 6 per cent was not known)
  • 69 per cent were adults, 24 per cent were children (the age of the remaining 7 per cent was not known)
  • 75 different countries of origin were reported by potential victims of trafficking. The most common country of origin was Romania
  • 99 UK citizens were identified as potential victims of trafficking, 52 for sexual exploitation and 38 for labour exploitation.

Types of exploitation

As the graph below indicates, the most prevalent types of exploitation identified were sexual exploitation and labour exploitation. 

The assessment identified 353 potential victims of trafficking for the purposes of criminal exploitation. In five per cent of these cases no further information was available. Where known, the most common forms of criminal exploitation were: benefit fraud (271 people); being forced into cannabis cultivation (30 people); or being forced to steal (29 people).

Five per cent (102 people) reported multiple forms of exploitation, the most common combinations being labour exploitation/criminal exploitation and domestic servitude/sexual exploitation

Fourteen per cent of potential victims (298 people) were trafficked for reasons unknown.

Countries of Origin

Potential victims reported 75 different countries of origin. (The country of origin was unknown for 12 per cent of potential victims.) Where identified, the most frequently recorded countries of origin were: Romania (10 per cent), Slovakia, Nigeria, Poland, the Czech Republic (each eight per cent), Hungary, UK and Vietnam (each five per cent).  There were, however, some differences in the most common countries of origin for adults and children. There were also differences in the types of exploitation reported by potential victims from different countries of origin.  For example, adult potential victims of trafficking from Poland reported significantly higher rates of criminal (benefit fraud) and labour exploitation and lower rates of sexual exploitation and domestic servitude than those from Nigeria and Albania.

Sexual exploitation

Of the 639 people potentially trafficked for sexual exploitation, 92 per cent were female and 6 per cent male (the gender was unknown in the remaining cases); 71 per cent were adults and 23 per cent were children at the time of their exploitation. Nigeria was the most commonly reported country of origin for trafficking for sexual exploitation, with recruitment generally occurring through someone known to a friend or family member. Many were trafficked first to the UK, before traveling onward to Europe (with France, Italy and Spain being among the main destinations).


Labour exploitation

Of the 461 potential victims of trafficking for labour exploitation, the majority were adult males. Potential victims of labour exploitation reported being forced to work in tarmacking and block paving industries (24 per cent), factories (17 per cent), agriculture (11 per cent), food processing (eight per cent),  restaurants (five per cent), delivery of leaflets (four per cent) and construction (two per cent). However, in 23 per cent of cases the nature of the labour exploitation was not known.


In cases where the type of exploitation was known, of the 489 children identified as potential victims,  30 per cent were trafficked for sexual exploitation, 26 per cent for criminal exploitation, 13 per cent for labour exploitation, and seven per cent for domestic servitude.  In  22 per cent of cases the type of exploitation was unknown.  Romania (20 per cent) and Vietnam (13 per cent) were the most commonly reported countries of origin for child victims.  (Reports in 2011 and  2010 by the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre also identified a trend in the trafficking of Vietnamese children into the UK.)  Of all potential child victims trafficked for sexual exploitation where the country of origin was known, 30 per cent were UK citizens and 14 per cent were Nigerian.

Vulnerability factors

The report noted common vulnerability factors for potential victims of trafficking, including: poverty, homelessness; poor education; alcohol and drug dependency; issues of culture and language; and migration status. Deceptive recruitment and debt bondage were common, with potential victims reporting "debts" up to  70,000.

UK Citizens

Not all potential victims of trafficking identified in the assessment were migrants. As noted above, 99 UK citizens were identified as potential victims of trafficking, 52 of whom (53%) had been potentially trafficked for sexual exploitation.  Over 80 per cent of these were female children. Thirty-eight male UK citizens (mainly adults) were identified as being potentially trafficked for exploitation in the tarmacking and block paving industries by criminal groups in the UK traveller community.  (One hundred and four people in total were identified as being potentially trafficked for labour exploitation in this industry.)  Recruitment for this group of victims occurred at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other places frequented by vulnerable men. Some were trafficked within the UK, and some to continental Europe and Scandinavia.


People trafficking is a complex, organised and largely hidden crime. This intelligence assessment provides important insights into the nature and scope of people trafficking activity in the UK and Europe. Like any such study, it has inherent limitations due to the nature of its dataset.  Accordingly, the  report identifies a number of caveats and limitations, acknowledging that the actual number of potential victims of people trafficking may be higher than its findings indicate. It notes that some trafficked persons may not consider themselves to have been exploited; and that others may be unwilling or unable to disclose their experiences or talk to law enforcement. A fundamental issue, not unique to the UK, is the extent to which competent authorities and agencies are able to identify potential victims of trafficking. The report acknowledges that some potential victims, especially those subjected to criminal exploitation, continue to be incorrectly identified as suspects rather than potential victims.  This is evident from the fact that more than half of the total number of potential victims of trafficking identified in the intelligence assessment had never been referred to the NRM.

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