What is human trafficking?

People waiting for a bus in Ukraine
Credit: Jonathan Moore

Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud, coercion or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.

What trafficking really means is people groomed and forced into sexual exploitation; people tricked into accepting risky job offers and trapped in forced labour in building sites, farms or factories. It means being recruited to work in private homes only to be trapped, exploited and abused behind closed doors with no way out. It’s a serious crime and a grotesque abuse of the people it affects – which is why tackling it is one of our four strategic priorities (including child slavery, climate change and modern slavery, and responsible business.)

People don’t have to be transported across borders for trafficking to take place. Trafficking is defined by the movement of a person, and this can happen within a single country or even within a single community.

Human trafficking in numbers

  • 50% of trafficking victims were trafficked into sexual exploitation and 38% for forced labour
  • 67% of people trafficked for sexual exploitation are women
  • 67% of people investigated or arrested for trafficking in persons are men, and 33% women
  • 46% of trafficking victims are women, 34% are children, and 20% are men

(Estimates by The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2020)

How do people get trafficked?

There are many things that can lead to a person being trafficked. They might have been kidnapped or coerced by someone; they may have been trying to escape abuse or poverty; or they could simply have been trying to improve their lives and support their families.

Debt can be used to as a way to entrap people. Debt bondage is a serious issue for many vulnerable people who are forced to take unimaginable risks to try to escape from poverty or persecution. They can be forced into accepting precarious job offers and making hazardous migration decisions, often borrowing money from their traffickers in advance. When they arrive in their destination country, they may find that the work does not exist, or conditions are completely different from those they had been promised. They become trapped, reliant on their traffickers and extremely vulnerable. Their documents are often taken away and they are forced to work until their debt is paid off.

What we do

We believe in a world where vulnerable people can find opportunities to provide for their families in safety and dignity, including safe migration mechanisms.

We campaign to ensure that people have the right to move to look for jobs to provide for their families without stigma, and that every human being is protected – regardless of their immigration status.

For example:

  • We successfully lobbied to make trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation a criminal offence in the UK.
  • We have worked with people migrating for work to the Middle East and Mauritius, providing them with training and information on how to avoid getting trapped in trafficking.
  • We supported girls and women in Nepal personally affected by trafficking, training them as paralegals and arranging placements at police stations.
  • Over 1,000 asylum-seeking trafficking victims in the UK, who had endured cruel and unlawful subsistence cuts, had their money repaid thanks to a High Court case that we strongly supported.


The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group

We are proud to host and chair the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), a coalition that exists to monitor the UK’s implementation of international anti-trafficking legislation. The group examines all types of human trafficking, including internal trafficking and the trafficking of British nationals.

Learn more about our work on human trafficking

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