Slavery and trafficking: a 2022 briefing for the Jewish community

Posted on Tuesday, September 13th, 2022

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The right to be free from enslavement is a fundamental human right; one that is carefully stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and in domestic legislation in the UK and much of the world. Nevertheless, it continues to exist in modern society. 

  • • 40.3 million people worldwide are in modern slavery 
  • • 24.9 million are in forced labour 

Today, someone is in slavery if they are forced to work and controlled by an employer through mental or physical threats of violence. The predominant forms of slavery are: 

  • Human trafficking: using violence, coercion, or deception to recruit and transport people for purposes of forced sex work, labour, criminality, marriage 
  • Forced labour: any work done against their will under threat of punishment 
  • Debt bondage: those in poverty who borrow money and must work to pay off debts 
  • • Forced and early marriage 


  • • 10 thousand people are estimated to be in modern slavery by the UK Government 
  • 136 thousand people in the UK are in modern slavery according to slavery experts 
  • The 2015 Modern Slavery Act increased maximum sentences for trafficking offenders, assured protection for victims and the establishment of the UK’s first ever Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Identified victims has since risen by 40% and there have been more prosecutions for slavery offences. 
  • However, the Act has deficiencies: big businesses face zero sanctions for failing to examine their supply chains, and there is no proper long-term support for survivors. René Cassin have, alongside experts, promoted the Victim Support Bill, which guarantees 12 months of support for survivors. 
  • • Dame Sara Thornton, former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said recent changes to modern slavery provision via the Nationality and Borders Act will harm survivors, being driven by ‘political calculation’ rather than expertise’ 


Slavery and trafficking are unavoidably connected to Jewish experience. As stated by the Chief Rabbi, “the foundations of Jewish belief stand on the principle that all people are created in the image of G-d and every single person, deserves to be treated with respect. That is why slavery demands our urgent attention.” 

The foundational narrative of the Jewish people is one of a people led from slavery to freedom. We believe that the UK Jewish community can and should encourage the promotion and protection of human rights for those who are not free and who still suffer under modern slavery. From political advocacy to Passover seders and workshops René Cassin have reasserted the Jewish imperative for expansive and protective human rights as an antidote to modern day slavery. 


The Nationality and Borders Act 

  • • Passed into law April 2022 
  • • The biggest attack on the refugee protection system that we have ever seen 
  • Expands the inhumane use of detention and penalises asylum applicants if they have arrived via routes unsanctioned by the home office, contrary to the 1952 Refugee Convention established in the wake of the holocaust 
  • Endangers trafficking and modern slavery victims by reducing sanctioned routes and thus making perilous journeys – often involving trafficking 
  • • The Act also increases the threshold for concluding someone is a victim of slavery will discourage traumatised victims from having the support and time necessary to access support 
  • The conflation of immigration issues with modern slavery is misguided and harmful: for example, the plans state that ‘an individual may be removed to a safe third country that they travelled through’ and the Home Office is clear that this ‘safety’ is determined by the UK. Yet, many trafficked people experience dangerous situations unique to them, which deem being sent back to a seemingly ‘safe’ environment as actually very harmful. 
  • • For more detail, see our response to the New Plan For Immigration (the basis for the Act) here. 

Sending asylum seekers to Rwanda 

War in Ukraine 

  • • People fleeing violent conflict are known to be highly vulnerable to traffickers, as evidenced by previous crises in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. 
  • There are three visa schemes for Ukrainian refugees: the Ukraine Family Scheme, the Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, and the Ukraine Extension Scheme. Each has complex constraints, and the lack of clarity has aggravated professionals’ capacity to prevent exploitation. 
  • Using the Ukraine Family Scheme to reach family in the UK already on Ukrainians on Seasonal Worker Visas, there is serious concern about homelessness, due to authorities lacking the funding to support accommodation needs of these incoming refugees, as there would not be room for them in the farms or caravans their relatives were often staying in. 
  • The matching process in Homes for Ukraine has failed to protect against exploitation: limited checks and lack of longer-term oversight in the matching process have led to predatory hosts engaging in potential sexual and economic exploitation. 
  • Ukrainians who are undocumented in the UK (for example, after having breached restrictive visa terms by leaving an exploitative workplace) were also identified as a particularly high-risk group for human trafficking and exploitation, falling through the gaps of the various Ukraine-specific schemes, and unable to return to Ukraine 
  • • Read more in detail via the Human Trafficking Foundation’s report 
  • • Go to Anti-Slavery Org to find more key resources, and how you can help