The UK is a signatory to, and has adopted, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. This is more commonly referred to as the Palermo Protocol and article three contains the most widely used definition of human trafficking:
a. ‘Trafficking in persons’ shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, or abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments of benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purposes of exploitation.
Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
The consent of the victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in paragraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used.
b. The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered ‘trafficking in persons’ even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article.
1. ‘Child’ shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.
The UK has a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which is a process to identify individuals who may be victims of trafficking and provide appropriate protection and support.
Intelligence received by UK Human Trafficking Centre, NRM data and information received by reporting agencies, indicates there were over 2000 potential victims of human trafficking encountered in 2011. Around half of which were referred into the NRM. It is possible that the number of victims of human trafficking may be higher than this.
Victims of trafficking tend to be vulnerable, for example they can be homeless, uneducated, suffering from alcohol addiction, in poverty and generally having a poor quality of life. They may be illegal migrants which in turn makes them more susceptible to exploitation. Children, by their nature, are vulnerable and may be targeted by traffickers.
Some victims are illegal migrants, some entered on legitimate leave for other purposes such as visitor or student, while others are EU citizens who do not require leave to enter the UK. British nationals are also victims of human trafficking. Potential victims were of 75 different countries of origin. Where identified, the five most frequently recorded countries of origin were Romania, Slovakia, Nigeria, Poland and Czech Republic.
When entering the UK, many victims of human trafficking are not aware they are being trafficked and only become aware of their fate once they have reached their destination and are exploited. Some people who have been trafficked may not consider themselves to have been exploited. Elements of coercion and the degree of control measures in place may render them unwilling or unable to disclose their experiences, co-operate with law enforcement investigations or consent to entering into the NRM.
Some victims are sexually exploited and others are exploited for their labour or forced into domestic servitude or crime in the UK.