Image credit: GLF Media, via Shutterstock.

What’s the issue?

Since the beginning of time, people have migrated. We all deserve to do so safely and with dignity. Migration is not only important for individuals, but also for societies – migrants have positive impacts in the countries they migrate to, contributing to the economy and often supporting their families and local economies. But global challenges such as economic instability, marginalisation and poverty, conflict, pandemics such as Covid-19 and climate change leave people in precarious situations and make many migrants vulnerable to exploitation.

In fact, the 2022 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery demonstrate that migrant workers in particular are three times more likely to end up in forced labour exploitation in the private sector, than local workers. Migrants are also particularly vulnerable to trafficking on their migration journey.

Trafficking is a form of modern slavery, where a person is recruited or moved, through force, fraud or deception, for the purpose of exploitation. People who have been trafficked might find themselves subjected to forced labour, sexual exploitation or be compelled to work for criminal enterprises. Some might find themselves trapped in modern slavery through an unsustainable debt – debt bondage – or through threats to their families.

Caption: A Malagasy former migrant worker in Antananarivo, Madagascar, proudly shows the home he was able to build with his earnings. Credit: Jessica Turner, Anti-Slavery International.

While migration, smuggling and trafficking are separate phenomena, they are closely linked. When immigration laws do not support the movement of people through legal means, people can be forced to take irregular routes – which might rely on people smugglers and sometimes people traffickers – making them more vulnerable to modern slavery. In short, when governments tighten immigration laws, they increase the profitability of smuggling and people trafficking – and ordinary people pay the price.

In order to protect migrants from the risks of modern slavery, we must support safe migration, and open up more legal routes for migration. Governments and civil society must educate migrants about their rights, and work with employers to create ethical recruitment practices, decent work conditions, and support workers’ ability to report any potential abuse.

Three examples of human trafficking and the role of safe migration:

  • Child sexual abuse in Nepal. Nepal was devastated by an earthquake in April 2015. The quake took almost 9,000 lives and devastated the nation’s capital and economy. In its aftermath, many children lost their families and schools, and were forced to look for work far from their home communities. As a result, many children – mainly girls – were trafficked into sexual exploitation as they attempted to find safety and shelter
  • Illegal and illicit businesses in the UK. Around the world, people can be promised opportunities for work and advancement in higher-income countries (such as the UK), by people who then trap their victims into debt bondage or other forms of slavery – often with threats of violence to their families. In 2019, we published an investigation into how victims of trafficking, in this case from Vietnam, faced being trafficked across the world, at huge threat to their lives. On arrival in the UK, many were, and continue to be, forced into criminal activity. People, however, often fear approaching the authorities for help because of threats of violence from their traffickers, and because the UK’s authorities may criminalise victims of trafficking instead of treating them with the care and support they need
  • Safe migration. Migrants represent a significant share of detected victims of human trafficking in most parts of the world. Migrant workers are also at significantly higher risk of forced labour. There are many factors that make migrants vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking, but risks are higher when migration is unsafe, disorderly or irregular, and when destination country governments’ laws do not protect migrant workers. When safe pathways for migration exist, and there are laws in place to protect migrants, people can be protected from exploitation and modern slavery

According to the 2022 World Migration Report (with data from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime) 45% of all identified victims of trafficking had been trafficked across international borders. Migrants can be vulnerable both to being trafficked internationally and domestically – as they may be trafficked domestically after arriving in a country.

Human trafficking has to be stopped: without understanding and breaking the links between migration and trafficking, millions of people will continue to be vulnerable to modern slavery as they migrate.

That’s why this is one of the four issues we are focusing on in our strategy to stop slavery. It is closely related to our other three focuses on climate change, child slavery and slavery in supply chains.

Caption: People leave their homes in southern Madagascar. Credit: Jessica Turner for Anti-Slavery International.

What do we want to see?

Our approach focuses on raising the profile of migration and trafficking together as a linked phenomenon, and pushing this issue to the top of relevant policy-makers’ agendas.

Currently, most international migration agendas do not focus on the links between migration and human trafficking.

We are campaigning for greater protections of migrants and victims of trafficking, and we won’t stop until laws and policies both prevent people from being trafficked but believe and support people when they come forward to authorities. We know that sometimes having laws is not enough, we need these laws and policies to be enforced, and for people to be placed at the heart of the solutions.

By 2025, we aim to make sure that when policy-makers discuss migration, they will also consider human trafficking. We want national governments and international bodies to commit to taking serious action to protect people (whether they are migrating or not) from this devastating crime. We want businesses to make sure migrant rights are respected and that migrants can access their rights when at risk of being trapped in exploitation and forced labour. We want victims of trafficking to be supported, believed, and protected. We want people who have been harmed to be able to access justice.

What are we doing about it?

As with our other strategic areas of focus, we are identifying ways we can use our partnerships, experience and research to help advance this important campaign. These include projects that engage directly with the issue, and working with partner organisations, international bodies and governments to help make migration safer, including understanding and tackling trafficking.

We are building on our expertise to make sure that migration and trafficking are understood as an interconnected issue, and that tools for safe migration and decent work, such as legal migration routes, contracts in the workers’ languages, and education about migrant rights are prioritised across the stages of the migration cycle.

Our track record

Over time, we’ve built a strong record of success in tackling human trafficking and promoting safe migration.

Crucially, we host and chair the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), of which we were a founding member.

The ATMG was set up in 2009 to monitor adherence to the UK’s anti-trafficking legislation. It plays a crucial role in holding the UK government to account and making sure survivors’ voices are included in policy considerations. Our work on migration ranges from working on migrant domestic workers to supporting migrant workers as they travel to work in factories in the supply chains of international companies.

Our recent work on migration and trafficking includes:

  • Research and advocacy around trafficking in the UK, notably through our support for the ATMG. We recently supported the ATMG to publish the first review of the Home Office’s Recovery Needs Assessment, written and researched by those with lived experience of the process. The crucial recommendations from this report feed into our ongoing campaigning.
  • Supporting migrant workers in Mauritius. In February 2022, we were part of the official inauguration of Mauritius’ Migrant Resource Centre, along with a Mauritian trade union (Confédération des Travailleurs des Secteurs Publique et Privé) and with support from ASOS and IndustriALL Global Union. The Migrant Resource Centre promotes the rights of migrant workers in Mauritius, providing access to information and to remedy when rights have been violated. In addition, this project has developed an easy-to-use app, to help workers understand their rights and access help if needed. This also provides a successful model that can be replicated elsewhere.
  • An in-depth investigation into trafficking routes, to understand the chain of exploitation that leads to people being trafficked from Vietnam to the UK. Anti-Slavery International, along with various partners, investigated trafficking routes of Vietnamese people into the UK. This investigation has helped better understand the experiences of Vietnamese people trafficked into the UK and informed our advocacy to improve protection and support for victims

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Our research: