Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

UK anti-trafficking measures 'not fit for purpose' and breach international law - new report

The UK’s new anti-trafficking measures are “not fit for purpose” and the government is breaching its obligations under the European Convention against Trafficking (1), said a coalition of British human rights organisations today (16 June), as it published a new report on trafficking to the UK.
The report, the first major study of the government’s anti-trafficking measures since they launched 14 months ago, found that the government’s flagship “National Referral Mechanism” is “flawed” and possibly discriminatory, and operated by “minimally-trained” UK Border Agency staff who “put more emphasis on the immigration status of the presumed trafficked persons, rather than the alleged crime against them”.
The 167-page report (2), “Wrong kind of victim?”, by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, a coalition including Anti-Slavery International, Amnesty International UK and TARA (3), reviewed 390 individual cases, as well as data from the UK Human Trafficking Centre and figures obtained from freedom of information requests. It found marked disparities in the successful identification of trafficking victims, leading to fears that officials are overly concerned with immigration issues rather than assisting the victims of traumatic crimes, including sexual exploitation and forced labour.

Campaigners say there is clear evidence that criminals are even controlling their victims by warning that they will be seen as “illegal immigrants” not victims, and would be subject to detention and removed from the country or even imprisoned.

The report also criticises Border Agency staff for decision-making showing little understanding of trafficking issues. In one case a West African woman in her twenties was told that though her “experiences” of being forced to have sex with strange men were “extremely unpleasant”, this did “not amount to trafficking” because she had failed to escape her tormentors when she had the opportunity. In another case, a woman who for three months was forced to work 18-hour days as a domestic worker was told by officials that because this had happened in 2008 she should now have “overcome any trauma” she had suffered.

The report argues that the government has lost sight of the key pillars of anti-trafficking - identification, protection, prosecution and prevention - with “no meaningful” prevention measures being undertaken and prosecutions of traffickers apparently losing out to prosecutions of possible victims for offences committed under duress (including Children's rights who had been forced to work in brothels or cannabis “factories” ). In the nine months to January 2010, for example, only 36 individuals had trafficking offences brought to court, despite the government estimating that some 5,000 trafficked people are currently in the UK. Police officers quoted by the report complain of the “negative effect” of decision-making which can prevent victims assisting with prosecutions. Campaigners are warning that one consequence of the system’s failings is that vital intelligence about the activities of trafficking gangs is being lost to the police and other agencies.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“We pushed hard for the government to sign up to the ant-trafficking convention but the government has botched its attempt to deal with this most despicable of crimes.
“In particular, the identification system is clearly not fit for purpose, with under-trained staff displaying ignorance over what trafficking actually is. It should be overhauled, with other agencies and specialist NGOs brought in and the emphasis switched to victim-protection so that it’s not all about hounding people for immigration offences.”
The report’s analysis of 527 cases referred to the identification scheme between April and December 2009 found marked disparities in outcomes. Seventy-six per cent of referred UK citizens were positively identified as trafficked, while this was only 29% for EU nationals and just 12% for non-EU nationals. The report cautions that this is not necessarily evidence of active discrimination, but its authors call for the appointment of an independent anti-trafficking watchdog to properly check the work of officials.
The Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA), part of Glasgow Community and Safety Services (GCSS) was set up in 2005 to support the victims of trafficking.
Ann Hamilton, head of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights’s services and equalities with GCSS, said:
“This report really evidences the failing in the current system. We are working closely with partners and government agencies to ensure that victims in Scotland receive the support they need as well as being able to hold the criminals organising this exploitative trade to account.
“Scotland has a strong track record of partnership working and we need more robust measures built into the system. We would urge the Scottish Government to establish a localised, multi-agency Scottish National Referral Mechanism, and a local infrastructure for support, to build on existing good practice.“

The “Wrong kind of victim?” report is also sharply critical of failures to protect Children's rights who may have been trafficked. At present anti-trafficking officials assess the needs of trafficked Children's rights, rather than existing local authority Children's rights’s services. However the report applauds Scotland’s lead in piloting a model of Guardianship for unaccompanied Children's rights, as called for in the European Convention.

ECPAT UK Chief Executive Christine Beddoe said:
“Children's rights are not ‘mini-adults’ and attempting to fit them into a system designed for adults is inappropriate; the experiences and needs of Children's rights are quite different to those of adult victims. It is essential that Children's rights are provided with a legal guardian to ensure that their best interests are always considered.”
The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group is calling for the National Referral Mechanism to be turned into a multi-agency identification and referral mechanism, allowing the right of appeal and overseen by an independent review system. Campaigners also believe the appointment of an independent anti-trafficking watchdog will help to create properly integrated anti-trafficking measures, with the report noting that in the year to 1 April 2010 over 130 people were referred to services like shelters and counselling entirely outside of the government’s National Referral Mechanism - suggesting that the current system is failing to identify all victims.  

  • Read the full report: 'Wrong kind of victim?' (PDF)
  • Find out more about trafficking in the UK /li>

View latest press releases