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New inquiry examines human trafficking in the UK

7 February 2023

The Home Affairs Committee has announced a new inquiry into the trafficking of human beings.

Human trafficking is a crime that can occur across international borders or within a country. It involves the act of recruiting, transporting or harbouring people for the purposes of exploitation. The nature of trafficking means it is difficult to estimate the number of people being exploited in the UK. The Home Office received 12,727 referrals to its National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in 2021, but this is likely to be below the true number of victims. Charities providing support services to victims of trafficking have highlighted the gender difference of this form of crime. Just over half of female victims are subject to sexual exploitation, while almost two-thirds of male victims reported labour exploitation.  

A significant number of victims of human trafficking in the UK are not British nationals, having been recruited in another country. The Government has raised concerns that some migrants may be abusing the NRM process in order to claim asylum, but Home Office data suggests that 90% of victims referred to the NRM are victims of modern slavery. 

In this new inquiry, the Home Affairs Committee will assess the scale of human trafficking in the UK and the forms it takes. It will also investigate whether Government policy, legislation and the criminal justice system can be improved to better prevent trafficking, prosecute perpetrators and protect victims. 

Chair's comment

Home Affairs Committee Chair, Dame Diana Johnson MP, said: 

“Human trafficking is an abhorrent crime, yet it is all too prevalent and all too profitable in the UK. While Britain took an important step in the fight against trafficking with the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, the Home Affairs Committee will investigate what more needs to be done to prevent this crime, prosecute exploiters and protect victims”. 

“With the Home Secretary recently announcing she intends to make changes to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, now is a crucial time for the Home Affairs Committee to be scrutinising anti-trafficking legislation and its impact”.

“We have a particular concern around the gendered nature of human trafficking, with over half of trafficked women subject to sexual exploitation. Legislation, criminal justice responses and support services must reflect and respond to the differing experiences of women and men who are trafficked and exploited in the UK. We also want to make sure that the criminal justice system is able to take a nuanced approach that can ensure victims are fully supported, including in cases where they may have been pressed into criminal activity”. 

Oral evidence sessions are expected after Easter. 

Terms of Reference

The Committee invites written evidence on the following questions. The deadline for submitting written evidence is midnight on Friday 17 March 2023.  Please note, your submission does not need to address every question in the terms of reference. 

  1. What is the scale and nature of human trafficking in the UK? Considering in particular: 

a. Different types of exploitation (including sexual, labour, or criminal exploitation) 

b. The profile of victims and perpetrators 

c. The gendered aspects of human trafficking 

d. The role of technology in facilitating human trafficking 

  1. How effective is the UK’s approach to discouraging the demand that leads to trafficking? 
  2. To what extent do support services meet the needs of victims who have been trafficked in or to the UK?  
  3. What evidence is there, if any, that the National Referral Mechanism process is being exploited by individuals seeking asylum in the UK? 
  4. How can legislation, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015, policy and criminal justice system practice be improved to prevent and address human trafficking? 


We understand that the issues raised in this work may be sensitive or upsetting. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this inquiry, you may wish to contact your GP or the following organisations: 

Samaritans  Support and guidance for everyone.  Call: 116 123 - 24 hours a day, every day or Email 

Mind For information, advice, and support for anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Call: 0300 123 3393 

Further information

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