Raising awareness and reporting concerns of modern slavery and exploitation.
The 2023 to 2024 UK Labour Market Enforcement Strategy has identified the care sector as a high-risk sector for labour market non-compliance. This includes modern slavery and other forms of labour abuse, and presents a risk to workers and to people receiving care.
What is modern slavery?
Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. It is often an unseen crime and violates human rights.
Cases can look very different and can include:
- labour exploitation: victims are forced to work for little or no pay, or in poor working conditions
- human trafficking: victims are moved by force, fraud or deception
- force, or the threat of physical force, to victims or their family members
- physical confinement or confinement through threats: victims are unable to leave or seek help, which might include withholding travel or immigration documentation
- deception: a victim is given false information about their living or employment conditions
- fraud: a victim’s accounts or finances are controlled by their abusers
- debt bondage: victims are forced to pay excessively, for example travel costs or accommodation
Anyone can become a victim of exploitation. Victims may not always be aware they are being exploited.
What are the signs of modern slavery?
Modern slavery can be difficult to spot. However, there are possible signs.
- Being fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid.
- Exhibiting unusually fearful or anxious behaviour.
- Appearing withdrawn.
- Avoiding eye contact.
- Reluctant to seek help.
- Lacking health care / dental care.
- Appearing malnourished.
- Showing signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture.
- Not being allowed to travel on their own.
- Rarely interacting with others.
- Unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work.
- Seeming to be under the control of others.
Lack of control
- Having few or no personal possessions.
- Not being in control of their own money, no financial records, or bank account.
- Not being in control of their own identification documents (ID or passport).
- Not being allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating).
- Wearing the same clothes day in day out, or clothes that are inappropriate for the work being done.
Poor living conditions
- Living in a dirty and cramped environment.
- Living in over-crowded accommodation.
- Living and working at the same place.
Unusual travel times
- Being dropped off and collected for work on a regular basis, either very early or late at night.
Common misunderstandings and misconceptions
People who are victims of modern slavery do not always appear to be exploited.
Coercion is often hard to detect. Having freedom of movement, and appearing to consent to their work, should not be taken as conclusive evidence that someone is not being exploited. Modern slavery victims could be related to, or in a relationship with, their exploiters.
Victims of modern slavery can be of all nationalities. In 2022, there were more recorded British nationals who were victims of modern slavery in Wales than of any other nationality.
What you can do if you suspect care workers are being exploited
If you see something suspicious, report it or contact a helpline to talk about your concerns:
- call 999 if you believe there may be an immediate risk of harm
- report to the police on 101 if there may not be an immediate risk of harm
- contact the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline on 08000 121 700 or report concerns online
- contact the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) using their online reporting form
A care worker should follow their organisation’s own safeguarding procedures if they feel safe to do so. If not, see whistleblowing.
Organisations in Wales should follow the Wales Modern Slavery Safeguarding Pathway.
You do not need to be sure that modern slavery is taking place. You also do not need to fully understand the types and definitions of modern slavery or labour exploitation to report your concern. It is not your role to investigate before reporting, doing so could compromise a criminal investigation and leave people at risk. Consider that it might be unsafe for the victim to be approached directly.
If you are an international worker and want to question your working conditions
Employers might not follow the regulations and laws in relation to international workers. This could be intentional or unintentional.
UK law protects your rights as a worker, and you are entitled to:
- get a copy of your terms and conditions
- earn at least the national minimum wage
- receive itemised payslips
- have fair and legal deductions from your wages
- have rest breaks and time off work
- have paid holiday and sick pay
- receive relevant training
- have a safe working environment
The following organisations have more information and/or can support you.
Acas provides free advice on workplace related matters.
Bawso is a voluntary organisation in Wales providing specialist support to victims of modern slavery.
Call on 0800 731 8147.
Speak to a trade union representative in your workplace or consider joining a trade union.
Prove your right to work in the UK to your employer.
Unseen run the UK Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline.
Call on 08000 121 700 or report concerns online.
Find information and support to understand your rights in many different languages.
Social care providers employing (or wanting to employ) international workers
There are employment rules and regulations which apply to every member of staff, but there are additional considerations when employing international workers.
The code of practice for the international recruitment of health and social care personnel applies in England and Wales.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has developed guidance for international recruitment and induction of social workers. Most standards and principles in this guidance are transferrable to care workers.
We published resources to support providers with recruitment via:
It is illegal in the UK (and breaches international labour standards) to ask workers to pay recruitment fees for finding or trying to find them jobs. This can be flagged to the GLAA.
Social Care Wales has an employer support page on its website.
Any worker in the social care sector can make an anonymous report known as whistleblowing.
This is if they suspect wrongdoing in their organisation and feel unsafe to report it directly to an employer.
All registered services must have a whistleblowing policy. It should be readily available to a worker.
You can find out about whistleblowing and ‘protected disclosures’ on the Protect website, a whistleblowing charity offering advice and support.
If you want to make a ‘protected disclosure’ about your employer, both Care Inspectorate Wales and Social Care Wales, are ‘prescribed bodies’ to whom whistleblowing complaints about social care can be made. There is a list of prescribed people and bodies you can view.
Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW)
Advice by CIW on providing emergency accommodation for care workers.
Care Quality Commission
The Care Quality Commission statement on modern slavery and human trafficking.
Read more about the support available for victims. The information is available in 11 foreign languages.
Report by the modern slavery charity on modern slavery issues in the social care sector.