Justice denied: why it’s time to hold traffickers accountable

Modern slavery and human trafficking are profound injustices affecting more than 122,000 people in the UK.

Yet, nearly a decade after the Modern Slavery Act was introduced, conviction rates are persistently low and sentences short. Lives are devastated by these crimes and survivors are not seeing the justice they deserve. 

The Coalition to Stop Slavery is organising a roundtable in June 2024 where leading anti-slavery experts and leading practitioners in the criminal justice system will address this critical issue head-on.

Our aim is to highlight how a lack of justice for survivors serves only to embolden perpetrators and fuel these crimes that cause misery in our cities, towns and communities.

It’s a cycle that must be broken. And the time for action is now.

Why is this issue urgent?

To understand the gravity of the situation, consider the alarming gap between referrals into the National Referral Mechanism (the government’s support framework for potential victims of modern slavery) and convictions.

In 2022, there were more than 10,000 offences of modern slavery and human trafficking recorded by the police in England and Wales and almost 17,000 potential victims were referred to the NRM. 

However, the Crown Prosecution Service in 2022 received only 286 referrals of modern slavery and human trafficking cases, resulting in 405 individuals being prosecuted and only 282 individuals convicted.

In 2023, the scale of the problem showed no sign of abating with more than 17,000 potential victims of modern slavery being referred to the NRM – the highest annual number since the NRM began in 2009.

Lenient sentences are failing victims

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 provides for tough penalties and even life sentences for the most serious offences. But when there are convictions, the sentences very rarely reflect the severity of the crimes.

Leniency towards organised crime groups and individuals committing these offences fails to serve justice and perpetuates a human rights crisis that has devastating consequences.

Survivors pay the highest price but these egregious crimes impact us all – modern slavery undermines economies, perpetuates poverty and erodes the moral fabric of our communities.

The link between victim protection and justice

Evidence provided by victims is often central to securing convictions and victims’ testimony can have a significant impact on the length of sentences handed to traffickers.

We know that victims require sustained and trauma-informed support, which takes into account their individual needs, to engage with the lengthy and complicated criminal justice process.

Since the Modern Slavery Act was introduced, there have been advances in this area, but significant challenges have also emerged. For example, the conflation of modern slavery with other issues, such as immigration, and new legislation have prompted serious concern that protection for victims is being eroded. When victims are not properly protected, traffickers benefit – and justice is denied.

Roundtable: driving change by bringing experts together

Our roundtable seeks to understand what must be done by the government and others to create an environment where many more traffickers are convicted and their sentences reflect the severity of the crime.

Why are we hosting this event? Because the status quo is unacceptable. Victims of modern slavery deserve justice, and societies must reckon with the true cost of inaction.

The closed roundtable will take place in June, with key recommendations shared in a report later this year. We’ll be hosting a webinar to distil some of the recommendations and will also share them across our website, via supporter emails and through our social media channels.

We hope that the recommendations from the roundtable will raise public awareness of these issues, ensure the voices of survivors are heard, and help us make progress towards ensuring perpetrators face true accountability.

Our recommendations will incorporate achievable solutions from people on the frontline who have deep experience of the kinds of support survivors need. And the lived experience insights of survivors will be key, ensuring our recommendations and activities are effective, targeted, and grounded.

Stay up to date

We invite you to join our campaign for justice and help us create an environment which punishes traffickers, not victims. 

Sign up to our supporter emails, follow us on X, Facebook and Instagram, and look out for your invitation to join our upcoming free webinar.