Spotting the Signs of Modern Slavery

Human Trafficking is the movement of people by deception and coercion
for the sole purpose of exploitation.  


  • Human trafficking is the second largest illegal industry in the world – second only to the drugs trade.
  • Today’s slave trade is a multi-billion pound entity, thriving on the estimated enslavement of over 40 million people worldwide.
  • Whilst many survivors of human trafficking networks are kept behind locked doors, many more are often working right in front of us: for example on construction sites, in restaurants, old people’s homes, nail salons, farms, and hotels.
  • Traffickers’ often use coercion – such as threats of deportation and harm to a survivor or their family members. These threats are often so powerful that it immobilises the survivor from accessing any help at all. They also use a multitude of transport routes to ‘import’ and ‘export’ their victims and often need places to ‘store’ them.
  • People working at the forefront of transport and service industries such as air stewards, border control agents, car / van hire companies, shipping agents, hotel workers, banking clerks etc. have a unique opportunity to help identify and report suspected traffickers.

If you work in any frontline industry, please consider contacting ECPAT to help
train your staff on spotting the signs of human trafficking.



SIGN 1: Mini Fortresses – Have you noticed barred windows, heavily bolted doors or electronic surveillance cameras at residential properties?

SIGN 2: Keeping to Unusual Hours – Have you noticed people being driven / dropped off / collected on a regular basis either very early or late at night? Or have you noticed frequent visitors such as streams of men arriving and leaving at unusual times?

SIGN 3:  Dead Businesses – Have you noticed commercial premises such as restaurants or shops which continue to survive despite a clear lack of business?

SIGN 4: Never Alone – Do you notice people rarely able to leave a house except with different ‘guardians’?

SIGN 5: Not Dressed for the Job – Have you noticed people dressed inappropriately for the weather / season / area / job they’re doing, looking malnourished, unkempt or under duress e.g. at a nail salon, beauty parlour, cafe etc.

SIGN 6: Adverts for Services – Have you noticed stickers on lamp-posts / flyers in phone boxes or the windows of local shops advertising cheap services and labour e.g. cheap massage, cleaner etc?


Q1: Is she in possession of her own passport, identification or travel documents? Or are these documents in possession of someone else?

Q2: How does she look and act e.g. is she acting as though she is being controlled by someone? Is her body language natural or forced? Does she appear afraid and unable to look you in the eyes?
NOTE: Enslaved workers are never / rarely allowed to leave their place of ’employment’ without their ’employer’ being present, and if they do, are often made to return directly. Even if they are able to speak English, they are unlikely to ask for help having no access to their passports / money / documentations and being unaware of their human rights.

Q3: Has the suspected victim been harmed or deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care or other necessities? Is she malnourished?
NOTE: All too often Foreign Domestic Workers working as ‘servants’ in private residencies, women forced into the sex trade and those locked into sweatshops across the UK are physically abused through negligence, overwork, starvation, and physical or sexual harm. Any signs of undernourishment and abuse should be reported to the Modern Slavery Helpline immediately.

Q4: Is she able to speak for herself or is someone speaking for her?
NOTE: Be wary of the excuse “She doesn’t speak English” etc. If possible, request that a translator / third party able to speak the language help you directly speak to the potential victim in a safe space away from the suspected perpetrator.

Q5: Does she look under-age?
NOTE: Often in cases of trafficking for the forced marriage, sex and domestic servitude trades, underage girls will be given a false age. If you suspect that the age of a woman / girl is being falsely given to you, ask to see her documents and then speak with her alone.

Q6: Is she always accompanied by others – does she have freedom to travel, move, act on her own? Does the victim act as if they were instructed or coached by someone else?
NOTE: Banking clerks and hoteliers should pay particular attention to any woman appearing regularly at their location and seemingly cowed / under duress in the company of a man / group of men. Usually this will entail the suspected perpetrator constantly instructing her / ‘guiding’ her, keeping her physically controlled e.g. wrist-holding, arm holding etc.

Q7: Is she scared / distrustful of authorities?
NOTE: Many victims fear being handed over to the authorities in case they are deported, released back into the hands of their traffickers or punished / have their families be punished by their traffickers. In such cases, interpreters / agency representatives need to assure the survivor of their legal and human rights. See HERE for agencies which are NRM responders and may be able to assist trafficked victims that have been smuggled into the UK illegally.