New initiative launched to empower the public to take action on modern slavery

published on 17 Oct 2016

Research commissioned by The Salvation Army reveals that 81% of UK adults accept the reality that modern slavery exists today in every community, despite slavery being abolished in 1838. Worryingly, with its records showing a five-fold rise in the number of victims of modern slavery requiring its care since 2011*, over two thirds (71%) of UK adults are not confident they could spot the signs that somebody is a modern slave and almost two thirds (58%) admit not knowing what to do if they saw someone who was potentially a victim of modern slavery.

Today on Anti-Slavery Day (18 October 2016) The Salvation Army is giving the public the tools to play their part in stamping out modern slavery for good with an initiative to help people spot the signs of slavery and how they can make a difference.

The Salvation Army wants the British public to feel empowered that they can do something by helping them to spot the signs of modern slavery in their community and by taking part in #askthequestion – a simple initiative through which people can ask the businesses or services they use, “is this slave free?”, using both hashtags #askthequestion and #slavefree.

The research revealed that a disappointing 80% of those surveyed were not aware that big businesses in the UK (with a global annual turnover of £36 million) are now legally obligated under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (section 54) to tell people what they are doing to make sure they and their suppliers don’t use slave labour. Further to this, a third of respondents (30%) do not think that businesses are doing enough to ensure people are not being used as slaves in their organisations and supply chains.

According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre just over 700 businesses have so far identified themselves as having complied with the Modern Slavery Act (by displaying a statement addressing their actions to combat slavery and human trafficking within their business or an admission that this is something with which they so far have failed to comply).

Anne Read, Director of Anti Trafficking and Modern Slavery at The Salvation Army said: “This data shows that UK businesses are falling far short of what is needed to ensure the slave-free Britain that government, police, NGOs and other stakeholders in the sector are calling for. It’s clear from our own research that consumers don’t yet feel empowered to use public pressure so they can influence companies to step up to their responsibilities under the Modern Slavery Act. However everyone can make a difference – just by asking companies to tell them what they are doing to ensure their supply chains are slave-free means we can encourage all UK businesses – large and small - to take responsibility for helping us stamp out modern slavery for good.”

Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism Sarah Newton said: “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime which affects the most vulnerable in our society. This Government has taken world-leading action through the Modern Slavery Act to protect victims, give law enforcement new powers, and ensure businesses play their part in tackling slavery.

“The landmark transparency in supply chains provision goes further than any similar law in the world, requiring large companies to publicly state each year what action they have taken to ensure that modern slavery is not taking place in their business and supply chains. This allows consumers, investors and campaigners to scrutinise businesses and call them to account if they are not taking action to tackle slavery.”

Modern slavery tends to be hidden in plain sight; today people are being forced to work in slave like conditions not only in the sex industry and as domestic slaves, often in apparently respectable homes and streets, but also in factories, fields, shops, restaurants, car washes and nail bars where the public can come into direct contact with them without knowing.

Anne Read said: “The people we support have been tricked, lied to, trapped, threatened, traded and abused. Frequently they arrive at a safe house with no belongings or documents, untreated health problems and injuries, often as a direct result of being trafficked, and are often extremely traumatised.

“We believe the public will want to help when they realise there are two very simple things they can do to make a change – the first is learning to recognise the signs that something might be modern slavery and reporting it.

“This could be by alerting the police or other authorities to something suspicious you spot - a house in your street where suddenly large numbers of young women have been moved in and which then receives visitors all times of day and night; a café, nail bar or car wash where the workers seem reticent to engage, not appropriately dressed for the work they are doing or increasingly ill fed and unkempt.

“The second thing you can do is look more closely at businesses and services you use to ask them if they’re taking enough responsibility to ensure their supply chains are slave-free.”

The survey revealed people ranked businesses as having the most responsibility for addressing the problem of modern slavery, with just over a third (37%) of UK adults thinking businesses were most answerable closely followed by Government at just under a third (32%). More than a third of people felt that the public were the least accountable to help tackle this problem.

The #askthequestion initiative was first launched by the Modern Slavery Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show this year. It encourages people to share a photo of something they bought or a service they used and to post it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to the business which made or provided it, asking “is this slave free?” and using both hashtags #askthequestion and #slavefree.

Businesses should respond with a link to their slavery and human trafficking statement or an admission that this is something with which they so far failed to comply.

The Salvation Army sees the impact on the lives of victims of modern slavery having provided support through its Government contract covering all adult victims in England and Wales since July 2011. Its annual report shows there has been continued exponential growth in referrals of victims of modern slavery. More than 4,300 people have been supported by the service which works to help people to integrate safely into society here in the UK or in their home country. In safe houses and through outreach support across the country, The Salvation Army and its partners help people get medical, legal, emotional and any other help they need.

For more information on how to spot the signs that someone is a victim of modern slavery and who to contact as well as how to take part in #askthequestion please visit

* The Salvation Army issues a public report detailing its support service for adult victims of modern slavery. The report can be found in full online from Monday 17 October 2016 at and will provide an overview of what the service has delivered in its fifth year, including the number and profile of clients who engaged with the service.