One in five Britons has never heard of modern slavery: poll

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One in five people in Britain has never heard of modern slavery, and two-thirds do not know how to spot the crime, found a poll released on Wednesday by British supermarket Co-op.

A tenth of Britons think they may have come across a victim, yet half say they would not know how to react or who to talk to if they suspected someone was a modern-day slave, according to the poll of 2,000 adults, which was commissioned by Co-op.

The research comes amid a recent drive by activists, businesses and the government to help the British public identify signs of trafficking and report any suspicions.

At least 13,000 people are estimated by the government to be victims of forced labor, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude - but police say the figure is the tip of the iceberg.

Britain’s anti-slavery tzar, Kevin Hyland, in his second annual report this week described the estimate as far too low, and said the true number was in the tens of thousands.

“We, as a nation, need educating on what signs to look for, who to tell, what to do and for more of us to ‘wake up’ to the reality and existence of modern slavery,” Co-op’s group policy and campaigns director, Paul Gerrard, said in a statement.

Signs include people who look unkempt, scared of their employer or work without proper clothing, and slavery mainly affects immigrants and vulnerable people, often working in car washes, nail bars and farms, Britain’s anti-slavery body says.

“It is a sad reality that many in the UK still do not know about modern slavery or the fact that it could be taking place in their own town or street,” Justine Currell, executive director of Unseen, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Released on Anti-Slavery Day - a day set by parliament to raise awareness of the crime - the poll should encourage other businesses to take more action to address slavery, Co-op said.

In 2015, Britain passed the Modern Slavery Act, introducing life sentences for traffickers, better protection for people at risk of being enslaved, and forcing firms to disclose what they are doing to ensure their supply chains are free from slavery.

In the first employment program of its kind, Co-op and anti-trafficking group CityHearts launched ‘Bright Future’ in March - aiming to offer work to 30 slavery victims in Britain this year.