Post by Caitlyn McGeer, DPhil candidate at the Centre for Criminology   

As part of the Centre for Criminology’s commitment to knowledge-exchange, and in response to student interest, Border Criminologies and the Global Criminal Justice Hub hosted Detective Chief Inspector Jennifer Bristow and Anthony Jefferson on November 13th. DCI Bristow is the Head of Operations and Development for the Modern Slavery Police Transformation Unit. She is responsible for the what works team, the national referral mechanism triage team, and the regional coordinators based in each of the Regional Organized Crime Units. Mr. Jefferson is the Head of the Joint Slavery and Trafficking Analysis Centre (JSTAC) for the National Crime Agency. He oversees the development of JSTAC, liaising with stakeholders in order to ensure the team’s products make a positive impact.

Speaking in turn, Mr. Jefferson and DCI Bristow focused on how the UK conceptualizes and responds to modern slavery.  As they made clear, this is a complex crime. Not only do a number of different criminal acts fall under the label of ‘modern slavery’, but basic information about the scale of this act remain unclear. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, DCI Bristow made clear, this offense requires a distinctive approach to policing.

In the UK, modern slavery refers to the offences of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour, and human trafficking. The Home Office recognizes seventeen different types of modern slavery that fall under the categories of labour exploitation, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, and criminal exploitation; the exploitation of children cuts across all of these categories. The speakers explained that the most common typologies of modern slavery in the UK are labour exploitation and sexual exploitation. Although organ harvesting is often portrayed in media, it is not included in the UK typology because there have been no confirmed cases. Nonetheless, they warned, the threat of organ harvesting may well be being used as a means of coercion and control in other forms of modern slavery.

There are an estimated 10-13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK. Yet, like most other offences, the true number is impossible to know. Victims trafficked into the UK come from over 100 counties of origin; a third of them are minors. Offenders operate as part of organized crime syndicates and as lone offenders. Foreign victims are most often recruited by an offender of the same racial and ethnic background. British offenders follow no particular pattern. Debt-bondage is one of the key types of exploitation and it can start before a victim even leaves their country of origin. Offenders prey on victims’ vulnerabilities and promise them a better life.

According to DCI Bristow and Mr. Jefferson, modern slavery is above all economically driven. Trafficked victims can often be exploited for financial gain in many different. One individual may be used for forced labour and to have their identity used in ways such as to open a bank account through which money can be laundered and to sign on for welfare payments. They may also be sexually exploited for finance gain.

For DCI Bristow, understanding what offenders do with their money and where they put it is one of the biggest challenges that law enforcement faces. Policing teams must have a combination of expertise on serious and organized crime (covert policing expertise, expertise working across jurisdictions, experience dealing with high-end crime and complex criminal network, etc.) and public protection (e.g. vulnerability). In the business model of modern slavery, people are the commodity. People are far more profitable than drugs, for example: drugs can only be sold once, yet people can be exploited in multiple different ways over a long period of time.

Caitlyn McGeer

In addition to developing policing investigations premised on following the money, the business model of modern slavery also brings to light the role of the public as the consumer. We, the public, want cheap goods and services -- we are the demand in the business model. We therefore not only have a duty to report suspected cases of modern slavery, but to also be mindful of how we purchase goods and services.

In 2016, UK Prime Minister Theresa May referred to this modern slavery as the “great human rights issue of our time”, stating that as Prime Minister she was  “determined that we will make it a national and international mission to rid our world of this barbaric evil.”  DCI Bristow, Mr. Jefferson, their peers, and many others in the third sector have taken up this mission. As a result of their efforts, the UK has gained recognition as a world leader in responses to modern slavery. It remains clear, however, that we cannot lose this momentum. We need to continue to work to build the modern slavery intelligence picture, understand the nuances of its associated crimes, and understand how it intersects with migration.