Laws in the United Kingdom to prevent the trafficking of people

Human Trafficking

What is meant by Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is the illegal trade in human beings for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labour. It is a modern day form of slavery and is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world alongside the illegal arms industry as the second largest behind the illegal drugs trade.

Is there any legislation in the United Kingdom which deals with this criminal industry?

In 2002 the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act was introduced and became law. This Act made the trafficking of people for reasons of prostitution illegal.

Furthermore the legislation was strengthened the following year when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced legislation making trafficking for all forms of sexual exploitation illegal and not simply for prostitution as a crime.

The following year the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act further criminalised human trafficking for all purposes including forced labour.

Since April 2010 individuals who force other individuals into forced labour (slavery or servitude) will be guilty of a criminal offence under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

What are the maximum prison sentences for these human trafficking offences?

Individuals convicted of these offences in relation to human trafficking will be liable for a prison sentence of 14 years.

Why has trafficking for forced labour now being included within the criminal acts?

Many people think that human trafficking is simply concerned with trafficking for prostitution, however, many individuals including children are trafficked into the United Kingdom and forced to work in such things as Cannabis farms. Accordingly it is imperative that this is also included within the law.

Have there been any criticisms directed towards the above legislation dealing with human trafficking in England and Wales?

The above legislation may have criminalised human trafficking. However, there has been criticism as it lacks provision for the care needed by those individuals who have been victims of human trafficking and also runs the risks of treating them as criminals.

Is there any legislation in the UK which deals with the treatment of the individuals who have been the victims of human trafficking?

In May 2005 the Council of Europe formally adopted the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

What is the purpose of the Convention?

The Convention provides for further legal protection and minimum standards of care for individuals who have been victims of human trafficking.

What is included within the legal protection and minimum standards of care for victims?

The legal protection and minimum standards of care for victims includes the following:

  • A minimum recovery and reflection period
  • Temporary residence permits for those who may be in danger if they return to their country of origin
  • Temporary residence permits for children if it is in their best interests to remain in the UK
  • Access to specialist support, emergency medical care, legal advice and the provision of safe housing

Has the Convention been adopted into UK Law?

The Convention has been signed by the United Kingdom and measures were put in place to adopt the protection for the victims of human trafficking in 2009. The UK Human Trafficking centre has also been created to ensure that the obligations under the Convention are adhered to.

Have these measures been successful?

During 2010 the measures implemented by the United Kingdom have come under criticism from Amnesty International where it was stated that the UK’s new anti-trafficking measures are not “fit for purpose” and that the government is breaching its obligations under the European Convention against trafficking.

On what basis has the UK Government being criticised?

One of the main policies implemented by the UK Government was in relation to the National Referral System to deal with victims of trafficking. However, this has been criticised as potentially flawed and possibly discriminatory.

Furthermore it has been criticised as being operated by UK Border Agency Staff who reportedly put more emphasis on the immigration status of the presumed trafficked persons rather than the alleged crime against them.

Have there been any other criticisms?

The UK Border Agency workers have also been criticised for the apparent lack of understanding of trafficking issues. For example in one case it was felt that despite being forced to undertake sexual activities by individuals holding a woman captive this did not amount to trafficking as the woman failed to escape the individuals holding her. This is felt to be a clear breach of the convention.

Furthermore it has been claimed by Amnesty International that the UK government has lost sight of the key pillars of anti-trafficking which are identification, protection and prevention. It has been argued that there are no meaningful prevention measures being undertaken with prosecutions for traffickers not being sought with the prosecution of possible victims for offences committed under duress taking priority.

Are there any other laws and conventions which deal with the problem of human trafficking?

The following laws in England and Wales also deal with the problem of human trafficking:

  • The Gangmasters (Licensing Act 2004 – established the Gangmasters Licensing Authority – which is the body which is responsible for setting up and operating a licensing scheme for labour providers in agriculture, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packaging sectors – this deals with human trafficking for forced labour
  • The Immigration Asylum, and Nationality Act 2006 – makes employers who employ illegal migrants subject to a civil penalty. Furthermore if they knowingly employ illegal migrants they will be subject to two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine
  • The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 allows authorities to confiscate criminal assets of traffickers
  • Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits torture – this can be evoked under the Human Rights Act 1998
  • Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits slavery – this can be evoked under the Human Rights Act 1998

The United Kingdom has also signed and ratified the United Nation’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children which supplements the United Nation Convention against Transnational Organised Crime 2000.