UNITED KINGDOM: Tier 1
The United Kingdom (UK) is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including domestic servitude. Most foreign trafficking victims come from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria, Romania, and Poland were the top countries of origin for potential victims identified during the past year. UK children continue to be subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Officials identified two potential transgender sex trafficking victims in 2015. Migrant workers in the UK are subjected to forced labor in agriculture, cannabis cultivation, construction, food processing, factories, domestic service, nail salons, food services, car washes, and on fishing boats. Children in the care system and unaccompanied migrant children are vulnerable to trafficking. Foreign domestic workers in diplomatic households are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and abuse. In Northern Ireland, migrants from Albania and Romania are vulnerable to forced labor in agricultural work and at car washes.
The Government of the United Kingdom fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. In 2015, the government enacted the Modern Slavery Act, which consolidated and strengthened existing laws for perpetrators, increased protections for victims, and established the UK’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner. The act was also the first national law in the world to require large corporations operating in the country to publish the steps they are taking to eradicate trafficking from their supply chains. The independent anti-slavery commissioner released a strategic plan, laying out priorities for the UK to combat human trafficking from 2015 to 2017 and a roadmap for accomplishing them. The government prosecuted 60 percent more traffickers in 2015 than in 2014 and had 50 percent more successful convictions. While authorities continued to identify a large and growing number of potential trafficking victims, a 40 percent increase over the previous reporting period, the victim identification and referral system did not assist all those requiring help. In particular, the government did not provide for victim care following a 45-day reflection period, after which authorities generally deported foreign victims.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE UNITED KINGDOM:
Increase funding for and access to specialized services for trafficking victims, regardless of their immigration status; provide a trafficking-specific long-term alternative to deportation or repatriation for foreign victims; allow potential victims to access services from care providers before having to engage with law enforcement; consider extending the reflection and recovery period; expand independent child trafficking advocate program nationally; address the vulnerability of foreign domestic workers under the current visa system and explore options to allow workers to change employers; increase training for law enforcement, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, and front-line responders, including in UK overseas territories, to improve responses to trafficking victims and ensure victims are not prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; increase investigations in high-risk labor sectors, including by passing and enacting draft legislation that would expand the jurisdiction of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority; and increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and sentence traffickers with strong sentences.
The government maintained prosecution efforts. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from fines to life imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. This act gave law enforcement new powers to pursue perpetrators at sea, including the power to board, divert, and detain vessels; make arrests; and seize evidence while investigating potential offenses at sea. Northern Ireland enacted the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act in January 2015 and Scotland enacted the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill in November 2015. In Northern Ireland, the law created a new preparatory offense authorizing arrest of individuals preparing to engage in human trafficking. A preparatory offense was already in place in England and Wales. The Northern Ireland law now criminalizes the purchase of commercial sex. Laws across the UK now allow for the seizure of convicted trafficker’s assets and for reparations to victims.
The government did not report the total number of trafficking investigations initiated in 2015. The government reported authorities prosecuted 295 suspected traffickers and convicted 192 traffickers in England and Wales between 2015 and 2016, an increase from the previous year’s prosecution of 187 individuals and conviction of 130. The government did not report the proportion of offenses that were for sex trafficking versus labor trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. Authorities in Northern Ireland reported convicting two traffickers, sentencing one to seven years in prison and the second to three years in prison. Northern Ireland also reported the extradition of a woman from Sweden to Northern Ireland on trafficking charges, following a three-year police investigation.
The government provided varying levels of anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and justice officials. In June 2015, an NGO published a set of trafficking survivor care standards that the government has disseminated widely and included in law enforcement training materials. The Northern Ireland police service conducted training for officers, first responders, and call center staff, and developed specialized training for detectives. As of October 2015, more than 4,000 police service officers had completed online training on trafficking. The police service also participated in joint training on trafficking investigation with the Irish police force. Since April 2015, the Northern Ireland police service had a dedicated human trafficking unit, providing around-the-clock support to front-line officers and other agencies and conducting proactive operations to disrupt human trafficking.
The government increased protection efforts. Authorities identified 3,266 potential trafficking victims from 102 countries in 2015, compared with 2,340 potential victims in 2014; this 40-percent increase was a result of increased public awareness of modern slavery, following the introduction and enactment of the Modern Slavery Act. Of these, 53 percent were female and 46 percent were male, while 70 percent were adults and 30 percent were children. Of potential adult victims, 15 percent were referred for domestic servitude; 39 percent for other forms of labor trafficking; 38 percent for sex trafficking; and seven percent for unknown exploitation. Of children, seven percent were referred for domestic servitude; 29 percent for other forms of labor trafficking; 22 percent for sex trafficking; and 41 percent for unknown exploitation. Northern Ireland established a new liaison group in November 2015 that worked with individuals in prostitution to alert police to potential trafficking cases.
The UK operates the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a process for identifying and providing care and support for trafficking victims. The initial referral to the system is generally made by a first responder, such as the police, the border patrol, or local authorities. Following the initial referral, the NRM has two steps for identification: a preliminary finding of “reasonable grounds” that an individual is likely a trafficking victim and a final decision of “conclusive grounds” that triggers victim protection measures. There is no formal appeal process for preliminary or final decisions, but a reconsideration of the decision can be requested. Only UK Visas and Immigration in the Home Office and the UK Human Trafficking Centre can make these decisions. Victims receiving a reasonable grounds decision enter a 45-day program of reflection and recovery with access to services such as accommodation, health care, and counseling. The government maintained a 6 million pound ($8.8 million) contract with an NGO to coordinate the provision of care for adult victims in England and Wales under the NRM during the 45-day recovery and reflection period for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. In Wales, the Anti-Slavery Leadership Group tailored an individual plan that can extend beyond the 45-day period. In Northern Ireland, authorities contracted NGOs to work in tandem with government agencies to provide care for victims. As part of the Scottish government’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, victims of trafficking in Scotland also have the right to access support and assistance.
Foreign victims assessed as definite trafficking victims who cooperate with law enforcement may be granted temporary residency for up to a year, but the government did not report how many victims assisted with investigations. However, once a conclusive decision within the NRM system was made, authorities typically deported foreign victims. Long-term legal alternatives to removal to countries where victims might face hardship or retribution were only available through asylum procedures. NGOs in Northern Ireland criticized this practice and noted legal representatives discourage potential victims from entering the referral system because asylum would lead to better chances of remaining in Northern Ireland longer. NGO representatives reported potential victims were typically deported one year and one day from a conclusive decision and were not allowed to apply for asylum, whereas asylum-seekers typically spend many years in Northern Ireland and have a better chance of adjusting status as they develop stronger ties in Northern Ireland.
The government did not provide sufficient care for victims following the 45-day reflection period. Authorities have acknowledged NRM support is not intended to provide rehabilitation, and noted many victims were still profoundly vulnerable after 45 days. NGOs reported cases of victims returning to prostitution or being re-trafficked due to lack of long-term support. The government launched a year-long pilot in August 2015 to ensure the NRM was equipped to cope with the challenge of handling growing numbers of referrals and improving care. The pilot tested methods for streamlining and improving the NRM process recommended by a 2014 independent review.
Local children’s services offices provide support for children, but NGOs have raised concern that with no mandatory training for social workers, children did not receive adequate care. The Modern Slavery Act provides for independent child trafficking advocates (ICTA), who represent and support children within the legal system where there are reasonable grounds to believe they may be trafficking victims. A December 2015 independent report assessed a year-long ICTA pilot program and praised the introduction of child advocates as a positive step, important in “ensuring clarity, coherence and continuity” for children. The government found the results of the pilot to be mixed and has delayed expansion of the program until a second pilot can be run. NGOs expressed disappointment in this decision. Scotland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act also provides for an independent child trafficking guardian. Northern Ireland’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015 provides for an independent legal guardian for children subjected to trafficking and unaccompanied children who arrive in Northern Ireland without a parent or primary caregiver.
Under the Modern Slavery Act, victims now have a statutory defense for crimes committed as a consequence of their trafficking. Similar provisions are included in the Northern Ireland and Scotland trafficking acts, although NGOs in Northern Ireland raised concerns that individuals being prosecuted may have been victims. NGOs reported a case of Chinese immigrants jailed for marijuana possession who are believed to have been unidentified trafficking victims forced to cultivate drugs. The UK and Northern Ireland’s trafficking laws improved access to special measures in courts by allowing trafficking victims to testify by video, behind a screen, or with the public removed from the court. The Modern Slavery Act provides increased powers to the courts to confiscate assets of convicted human traffickers and provide compensation to victims through Reparation Orders. Courts are now able to consider the totality of a defendant’s assets over the past six years as crime proceeds, with a view to confiscation. In September, a woman recruited from India and kept in domestic servitude for four years was awarded nearly 184,000 pounds ($270,000) in compensation from her employers.
The Modern Slavery Act requires amendments to immigration law to allow foreign domestic workers who are trafficking victims to change employers and remain in the UK for at least six additional months. However, observers argued this system of “tied” visas continued to leave workers vulnerable, as it discouraged victims from reporting abuses. In response to ongoing concern, the government commissioned an independent review of visas for foreign domestic workers to determine if they lead to human trafficking. The review, published in June 2015, found the current system, which ties workers to a single employer and denies them the right to change employers, increases the risk of trafficking to an already vulnerable population and recommended all overseas domestic workers be granted the right to change employers and apply for annual extensions to their visas, provided they continue to perform domestic work in a private home. The report also recommended mandatory informational briefings for all foreign domestic workers who remain in the country for more than six weeks to inform them of their rights and encourage trafficking victims to self-identify. The report determined the limited changes included in the Modern Slavery Act were insufficient protection for potential victims. The government has not yet published a formal response to the report.
The government increased prevention efforts. Building on the government’s first modern slavery strategy, released in November 2014, the new independent anti-slavery commissioner released a strategic plan in October 2015, pursuant to the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act. The strategic plan outlines the commissioner’s priorities for 2015-2017, including increased victim identification and referral; increased prosecutions and convictions of traffickers; private sector engagement; and international collaboration. A national Modern Slavery Threat Group was established, comprising law enforcement agencies and others, to try and improve operational responses. The act also introduced Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders and Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders, new preventative measures that place restrictions on individuals who pose a high risk of committing a human trafficking offense, such as a court banning someone from working with children, employing staff, or traveling to specific countries. Similar orders are being made available in Scotland and Ireland through their anti-trafficking laws. In December, the government announced plans for a national helpline, in partnership with an NGO and sponsored by the private sector. The official launch is planned for sometime in 2016. A new immigration bill, in the final stages of passage by Parliament, would significantly expand the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to enforce labor standards in high-risk sectors by allowing the agency to investigate regulatory and criminal offenses in employment. Northern Ireland published its first human trafficking and exploitation strategy in September 2015, which builds upon action plans released by the government over the past two years. The strategy is a comprehensive plan to raise awareness and reduce the prevalence of human trafficking. The Northern Ireland government has promoted education and training on human trafficking through the development of an educational resource package for teachers; training for agency staff and civil society groups; and public awareness campaigns. NGOs in Northern Ireland noted that general societal awareness of human trafficking is low in the region.
The Modern Slavery Act introduced broad new requirements for UK businesses on supply chain transparency. As of October 2015, all businesses operating in the UK with annual revenue exceeding 36 million pounds ($53 million) must publish an annual slavery and human trafficking statement that details what efforts, if any, the company has made during the previous fiscal year to ensure its operations and supply chain are free of human trafficking. The act does not require companies to take any specific action toward eliminating slavery, but instead seeks to create a “race to the top” through transparent reporting and inter-industry collaboration. More than 12,000 companies are estimated to be required to comply. Construction companies expressed support for the principles behind the act, but have cited practical issues in supply chain oversight and challenges in cross-industry collaboration as potential barriers. Companies with fiscal years ending on March 31, 2016, were the first companies required to publish a statement. Media and NGOs report compliance so far has been incomplete, in part due to misunderstandings among businesses about what the law requires. Critics noted the lack of monetary or criminal penalties for companies that did not comply with the reporting requirement.
Existing law allows authorities to prosecute citizens for sexual offenses committed against children overseas, but the government did not report prosecuting or convicting any nationals engaged in child sex tourism abroad. All registered sex offenders are required to notify the government of any foreign travel, enabling the police to share information on offenders with other jurisdictions or apply for a sexual harm prevention order, which prevents foreign travel. The government did not report anti-trafficking training provided to its diplomatic personnel or members of the military prior to deployment abroad as part of international peacekeeping missions in 2015.
OVERSEAS TERRITORIES OF THE UNITED KINGDOM
Bermuda is a limited destination territory for women and men subjected to forced labor. Some foreign migrant workers from Asia and Latin America are vulnerable to domestic servitude and abuse or to forced labor in the construction and agricultural industries in Bermuda. The territory government did not report on any potential trafficking cases. Some employers reportedly confiscate passports, withhold wages, deny benefits, and threaten migrant workers with repaying the cost of airline tickets. Migrant workers in Bermuda operate under a strict system of government work permits obtained by employers on behalf of foreign workers. The Transnational Organized Crime Act 2013 criminalizes all forms of sex and labor trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The government did not report investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of trafficking offenses in 2015. Government resources were inadequate to conduct inspections to identify possible exploitation of foreign workers. No government officials were prosecuted or convicted for involvement in trafficking or trafficking-related criminal activities in 2015.
TURKS AND CAICOS
Turks and Caicos Islands are a destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. According to local experts, the large population of migrants from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica are vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor, with stateless children and adolescents especially at risk. Local stakeholders, including law enforcement officials, have reported specific knowledge of sex trafficking occurring in bars and brothels and noted trafficking-related complicity by some local government officials was a problem. The government did not report any updates on anti-trafficking legislation, introduced in 2012, which was pending in the previous reporting period. The government did not report protection or prevention efforts undertaken during the reporting period. The absence of specific legislation prohibiting trafficking as defined by the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; the absence of victim identification, screening, and protection procedures; and limited awareness of human trafficking on the part of officials and the public continued to hinder anti-trafficking efforts.