Global Welfare and equalities

Local government can play a big role in addressing modern slavery – and there’s plenty of relevant research that can show you how


Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Modern slavery, where people are trapped, controlled and exploited in situations they can’t escape, affects many people across Britain.

Only last year, there were over 12,700 people referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the system created to identify and provide specialist support to people affected, with many more identified as potential victims by relevant authorities, who chose not to be referred. Many of those are British, including children and young people exploited by criminal gangs in trafficking drugs, sometimes called ‘county lines’.

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) was created to enhance understanding of modern slavery and transform the effectiveness of laws and policies designed to address it. We fund and carry out research that can be helpful for decision makers and we build networks of people to work together to address the issue. Local government is an important part of the puzzle of actors with the power to help address modern slavery in the UK.

There are many ways in which the evidence produced by the Modern Slavery PEC and others is relevant for local government and many ways in which local authorities and services can help address it.

For example, our research on protecting British nationals from modern slavery identified missed opportunities to identify and protect people who are being affected or are at risk. The research found that British Nationals had difficulties in accessing specialised support delivered through the NRM in part due to confusion around who the NRM is for, or not understanding the benefits of a referral for British Nationals and confusion around how the NRM relates to housing and social care entitlements.

Our participatory research with children and young people who were trafficked and exploited in the UK has identified outcomes of recovery that are important to them and what they would need to see for positive and meaningful change to happen in their lives. Young people highlighted being and feeling safe, stability, having trust in professionals and systems, being listened to and believed, as well as having access to quality legal advice and interpreters, as important to them. They asked for decisions about children to be made in their best interests and to meaningfully include children with lived experience of modern slavery in policies and interventions that affect them.

Another piece of research that can be applied widely explores best practices in the engagement of people with lived experiences of modern slavery in policy and programmes addressing modern slavery. It identified practical approaches to meaningfully include survivors, underpinned by the principles of being non-tokenistic, being trauma-informed and preventing harm.

From a different angle, public procurement is an important area where local government can make a big difference in addressing modern slavery. There is already leading practice from some local authorities voluntarily taking forward this work, and lots of scope to build on and broaden this work. The Modern Slavery PEC’s recent policy brief on the effectiveness of public procurement laws and policies in addressing modern slavery risks included a number of case studies of positive, innovative practices.

Check out our recent Global Local newsletter on the topic of modern slavery here:

Global Local In Brief: Modern slavery and human trafficking

We continue to work on producing new evidence on how to best address aspects of modern slavery. Currently, we’re funding projects focusing on how wider laws and policies impact modern slavery, including adult services websites, safeguarding of children with special educational needs and disabilities, and protecting people affected by modern slavery in prisons.

Local government can lead the way in addressing modern slavery in local areas, and the best place to start is with prevention. As our research indicates, it’s good to think holistically about the whole system and use the five pathways identified by the researchers.

  1. Firstly, access – ensuring all people have access to the fundamental things in life such as basic financial resources, a secure home and access to essential services.
  2. Secondly, literacy, making sure local agencies, services and communities understand modern slavery and its forms.
  3. Thirdly, building power and control amongst at-risk communities. Fourthly, disrupting and deterring perpetration through law enforcement and focusing on early detection.
  4. Finally, working in wide partnerships of people working in local organisations, from health professionals to social workers, police officers, businesses, charity and community organisations, is crucial for preventing and addressing modern slavery in local areas.

A good place to start is the practical interactive workshops for frontline practitioners in local areas across the UK, developed by researchers working with the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership and other relevant agencies.

There is a lot that local government can do and there’s plenty more research to come from the Modern Slavery PEC that will produce evidence relevant to local government (we make sure we provide it in an accessible format). To learn more, visit our website at and sign up to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest developments.


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