Human trafficking and modern slavery
The British Red Cross supports people who have experienced human trafficking with kindness, dignity and respect.
Last updated 4 August
What is human trafficking?
Survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery are people who have been exploited for others’ gain. The trauma they experience can have lasting impacts on their mental and physical health, wellbeing, and ability to rebuild their lives.
The exploitation can take many forms, including forced labour and criminality, sexual exploitation, and domestic servitude. Often, people are exploited in more than one way at once, and are trafficked within countries and across borders for the exploitation to take place.
Survivors of human trafficking and exploitation are at risk of harm and may need immediate assistance to access safety. They can get help from the British Red Cross as soon as they are able to. In parts of the UK, we offer short-term emergency response and longer-term holistic support.
We focus on providing care and support to people who have experienced human trafficking, because we believe that anyone who has been trafficked and exploited should be recognised and protected.
We work in the UK and internationally to increase the availability of care, support and protection programmes.
The British Red Cross approach
We focus on giving people who have been trafficked neutral and impartial information about all their possible options so they can make informed decisions on what to do next.
We know that if people are given enough time, accurate information and support, they can make their own choices about their next steps.
We never tell people what they should do, such as leave exploitation or enter the National Referral Mechanism. Choices must be made by the trafficked person when they are ready to make them.
Our support varies, ranging from between three and four days to six months and beyond. We have discrete projects and aim to offer our services for as long as people need them.
Ultimately, we want to support trafficked people to reduce the factors which limit meaningful and free choice in their lives. We also acknowledge that people’s lives will change over time. Anyone may come back to us for further support when necessary.
How we help
The first few days
Survivors of trafficking and exploitation are usually in a very uncertain situation and if they seek help, need to get it as soon as possible. They can get immediate help and longer-term support from a range of Red Cross services.
In the Your Space Programme, specialist staff work with people who have just left exploitative situations. To access our support,
- a person does not need to be engaging with the authorities,
- or consent to enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
We focus on helping people understand all their options so they can decide what to do next.
In 2018, we worked with the Human Trafficking Foundation, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group and Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU) and developed ten core principles (PDF). Based on what we learned from the Your Space project, they are central in supporting people in the first stages of recovery from exploitation.
In 2019 and 2020 the Red Cross conducted a process evaluation of Your Space and found:
- neutrality and independence were central to Your Space successfully building trust with people who accessed the programme.
- people inside and outside of the Red Cross agree that it was vital to continue Your Space to support people at a crucial time in their journey to leave exploitation.
The model of support aligns well with the ten core principles. The support provided was high quality, non-directive, and took people’s trauma into account while helping people take control of their lives and make informed choices. Staff support people and advocated for their rights on a wide range of issues.
Our UK crisis response teams also set up reception centres for people who were or may have been exploited. These are open once local police or the National Crime Agency identify people in need.
The centres are open 24 hours a day for a short-term period. Inside, we:
- provide emergency provisions such as food, clothes and blankets
- offer a listening ear and emotional support
- give first aid.
Beyond the first few days
We have specialist anti-trafficking officers throughout the UK. They provide support to trafficked people and can advise other front-line workers.
Trafficked people who are also refugees or asylum seekers may be able to get help and advice through our refugee support teams. People can then make informed decisions about what to do next and where to get more help.
People who are trafficked are often separated from their families, and sometimes unable to find them. We can help them look for their loved ones and, if eligible, be reunited with them.
Our international work on trafficking
The British Red Cross works through the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to strengthen our response to trafficking. Our focus is on people who have been forced to flee their homes or left for other reasons.
We offer our guidance and technical expertise and are keen to learn from other National Societies and the IFRC to improve our own response and share this more broadly.
We offer a range of activities depending on our Red Cross and Red Crescent partners need. These include:
- putting minimum standards in place in National Societies
- filling gaps in services
- developing specialist services
- sharing tools and other resources
- building other organisations’ capabilities.
We take part in international and national networks and working groups, where we work collaboratively to share strategies, priorities and best practice. We monitor and support policy changes, so that we can improve identification, prevention and provision of services for survivors of trafficking in the international context.
Publications on trafficking and modern slavery
- What next for survivors of trafficking? Read our report, After the National Referral Mechanism.
- Our EU-funded TRACKS project was a multi-country research project led by Forum Réfugiés-Cosi in France. The British Red Cross was the lead partner and the project produced three key documents: the EU Comparative Report comparing all partner countries, the UK findings report and the UK Toolbox.
- First steps to safety? Read our report on the role of reception centres in supporting people out of exploitation.
- Read our statement on the Modern Slavery Act.
Renew was a two-year project funded by Comic Relief. Working in partnership, Renew provided end-to-end support to female survivors of trafficking so they could gain control of their lives. This included reducing their vulnerability to gender-based violence and increasing their independence, and physical and mental wellbeing.
Pathways was a two-year project, co-funded by the European Commission Asylum and Migration Integration Fund.
It was a partnership of eight non-governmental organisations spanning three European countries who came together to deliver a range of activities.
The focus was on improving the situation for people from other countries who were presumed and identified to be survivors of trafficking, and helping them integrate.
The FAST project
Building on the results from Pathways and STEP, the FAST project is co-funded by the European Union. FAST stands for: Foster Action and Support to Survivors of Trafficking.
Bringing together organisations in Italy, Greece, the UK and the Netherlands, FAST helps make it easier to identify trafficking survivors and people thought to have been trafficked. It then helps survivors to get support, and offers empowerment and wellbeing workshops, legal assistance and specialised services.
Practitioners also build their capacity to help through training and guidance on survivors’ rights and entitlements.
One of our current projects, FAST, and our previous projects PROTECT, STEP and TRACKS, have been generously co-funded by the European Commission.