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Modern Slavery PEC launches five new projects looking at wider laws and policies

Modern Slavery PEC launches five new projects on link between modern slavery and wider laws and policies

Published: 11th July 2022

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) announced five new research projects aiming to identify opportunities to redesign wider laws and policies to better safeguard against modern slavery. The projects include:

  1. People with lived experience of modern slavery in prisons in the UK
  2. The role of adult service websites in addressing modern slavery
  3. Trafficking of children with special educational needs in the UK
  4. Links between UK agriculture and care visas and vulnerability to exploitation
  5. Harnessing UK trade and investment to address modern slavery risks

The projects cover a portfolio of projects touching on different areas that have indirect impact on modern slavery. They include research on identification of survivors of modern slavery in prisons, the role of adult service websites in preventing modern slavery, protecting children with special educational needs and disabilities, effects of short-term visas in UK agriculture and care sectors, and the role of UK trade and investment to address modern slavery.

The projects are a result of a funding call issued by the Modern Slavery PEC in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and with support from the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation. The programme aims to produce evidence to better understand structural and systemic factors underpinning modern slavery.

Modern slavery in its many forms results from multiple, overlapping drivers, creating situations where exploitation becomes easier to perpetrate

Prof. Alex Balch, Director of Research at the Modern Slavery PEC

Such factors can include poverty, exclusion or simply lack of opportunities for people to provide for themselves and their families. These in turn are often connected to areas of laws and policies that aren’t specifically focused on addressing modern slavery, such as immigration and asylum policies, labour market regulation, laws on sex work, safeguarding in health and social protection, trade and foreign policy and many others.

“We need to address these wider contexts and systems to understand how they connect to modern slavery and ultimately, how we can better safeguard against people experiencing exploitative situations.” said Prof. Balch.

“We are delighted that we’ve found projects that perfectly respond to this challenge, and we are very excited to work with these internationally excellent research teams,” he added.

Eradicating modern slavery is one of the most complex and highest priority challenges of our times. The Arts and Humanities Research Council is proud to fund and support the Modern Slavery PEC to deliver world leading research and evidence to inform more effective laws and policies.

These projects connect to the wider social, economic and humanities based research that AHRC and other research councils fund. Modern slavery doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so highlighting broader policies and laws that could help to address modern slavery and minimise the factors that can make people vulnerable to exploitation is crucial. This work is at the heart of our mission to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration to address contemporary challenges.

Matt McCallum, Associate Director at Arts and Humanities Research Council

Dr Marija Jovanovic from the University of Essex, who is leading research on identification of people with lived experience of modern slavery in prisons in the UK, said: “There is growing evidence that the survivors of modern slavery are experiencing imprisonment in the UK. Despite this, their identification and access to support guaranteed by domestic and international law remain the blind spot of the UK’s response to modern slavery, and policies governing prison administration in particular.

“Our research will generate robust data about adequacy of relevant laws, policies, and training for identifying and supporting modern slavery survivors in the UK prisons, which is currently wanting, and suggest how these could be improved. We will do this in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, including in particular voices and perspectives of modern slavery survivors who have experienced imprisonment in the UK.”

Prof. Teela Sanders from the University of Leicester, who is leading the project on the role of adult service websites in addressing modern slavery, said: “There is a need to include those who operate and use adult service website in collecting knowledge about how these platforms both harbour and can prevent sexual exploitation. Taking a multi-dimensional approach to understanding the connections allows realistic thinking about how various audiences can be at the forefront of prevention efforts, working alongside law enforcement.

“This project will provide sustainable stakeholder engagement beyond the life of the project to address the constantly changing online arena. Our research will be guided by those who have experienced sexual exploitation and those who work hard at an operational level to combat such crimes.”

Professor Anita Franklin from the University of Portsmouth, who is leading the project on trafficking of children with special educational needs and disabilities in the UK, said:

“The interplay of a number of factors increases the risk for this group of children and young people to be trafficked and exploited. Yet these children can be invisible or hidden in plain sight where neither their exploitation or additional needs are recognised or met. Higher rates of school exclusions, isolation and lack of support for families have been shown to impact this group disproportionately.

Currently there are gaps in safeguarding policy and guidance to support the identification of this group of children, nor do they provide mechanisms for appropriate planning and practice responses for multi-agency services. This study will place a much-needed focus on children and young people with special educational needs aiming to identify where improvements in law, policy and guidance can support better protection”.

Dr Inga Thiemann from the University of Exeter, who is leading the project on the links between UK agriculture and care visas and vulnerability to exploitation, said:

“There is growing evidence that both insecure visa regimes and insufficient labour protections contribute to migrant workers’ vulnerabilities to exploitation, discrimination and modern slavery. This project will investigate the specific vulnerabilities experienced by migrant agriculture and care workers on the new post-Brexit visa regimes.

This project will actively engage migrant workers as co-creators of the research and collaboratively generate new data on their working conditions, experiences and risks of exploitation and access to protections and redress. It will also assess the suitability of the relevant laws and enforcement mechanisms to adequately protect workers.”

Professor James Cockayne from the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, who is leading the project harnessing UK trade and investment to address modern slavery risks, said: “How can trade and investment arrangements reduce modern slavery risks? With forced labour import bans now in place across North America and under consideration in Brussels, this question is increasingly urgent.

“This project will bring together expertise from the University of Nottingham in the UK and Malaysia, from Anti-Slavery International, and from the Modern Slavery PEC, to develop more robust answers to this question. We look forward to our research results informing law and policy on trade and investment in the Indo-Pacific, the region with the highest rates of modern slavery.”

With real-life impact on policies at the heart of the Modern Slavery PEC, all research projects funded by the Centre focus on producing evidence capable of influencing policies, laws and business practices designed to address modern slavery in the context of wide spectrum of exploitative practices that underpin it, as well as wider areas of policy and practice connected to it.

The funding call was developed through a wide collaboration with the Centre’s partners, including policymakers, civil society and people with lived experience of modern slavery. All of the research funded by the Centre is guided by its research principles of effectiveness, equity and survivor involvement.

All projects funded in this call:

1. People with lived experience of modern slavery in prisons in the UK

This project will carry out research to better understand what happens to people with lived experience of modern slavery in the prison system.

The project will review relevant literature and legal and policy framework and will assess institutional practices by carrying out a survey for prisons in the UK and organisations supporting survivors of modern slavery, supplemented by interviews with key actors in this area. The research will include voices and perspectives of the survivors of modern slavery who have experienced imprisonment in the UK, including both people imprisoned for crimes committed within a situation of trafficking and those where there was no apparent nexus between the crime they were imprisoned for and their status as a victim of modern slavery.

Research team: Dr Marija Jovanovic, the University of Essex, Dr Patrick Burland, International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Hibiscus Initiatives.

More information

2. The role of adult service websites in addressing modern slavery

This research project is designed to investigate how adult services websites can be at the forefront of preventing modern slavery facilitated through such websites and to bring together organisations that are working to address this issue.

The project will explore how website operators see their role in preventing abuses, what those who use such websites think about these platforms in the context of identifying abuses and barriers to reporting, as well as exploring usefulness of tighter regulations to govern them and prevent harm. The design of the project includes people with lived experience of sexual exploitation who will inform the research process, data analysis and sharing knowledge between actors in this sphere.

Research team: Teela Sanders and PDRA (University of Leicester), Lauren Saunders (Unseen UK), Rob Richardson (National Crime Agency) and Nick Skipworth (National Police Chief’s Council).

More information

3. Trafficking of children with special educational needs in the UK.

This research project will analyse the gaps in the UK’s response to trafficking of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

The team will analyse current laws, policies and guidance to understand gaps in protection for children with special needs who experience exploitation. It will also analyse recently closed case files of children and interview parents and carers of affected children to better understand the support they received, the level of involvement of the child and family in decision making and what would better support the children’s safety and recovery. The team will also carry out two online consultations with statutory and voluntary frontline organisations to understand the barriers to protecting children and young people with special educational needs from their perspective.

Research team: Professor Anita Franklin, Sarah Atkins, Dr Jo Greenaway-Clarke (University of Portsmouth), Sarah Goff (Ann Craft Trust), Lucy Rylatt, Safeguarding Children Partnerships Manager, Portsmouth City Council.

More information

4. Links between UK agriculture and care visas and vulnerability to exploitation

This research project will examine the impact of recently introduced migration rules on people who came into the UK to work in the agriculture and care sectors and their vulnerability to exploitation and modern slavery.

The team will carry out desk-based research on ongoing changes to the labour market and new visa regimes prompted by Brexit, Covid-19 and recent legislative initiatives. It will also undertake a survey and conduct in-depth qualitative interviews with migrant workers and their representative organisations on their experience of work, their bargaining power and access to protective mechanisms. It will also interview representatives of frontline organisations, trade unions and enforcement agencies. The project is an equitable collaboration with non-academic partners, engaging frontline workers as interviewers, interpreters and translators, whilst simultaneously providing interviewees with support.

Project team: Dr Inga Thiemann, Dr Natalie Sedacca, Dr Konstantinos Alexandris Polomarkakis, University of Exeter; Dr Joyce Jiang, University of York; Dr Manoj Dias-Abey, University of Bristol.

More information

5. Harnessing UK trade and investment to address modern slavery risks

This research will produce evidence and analysis of the role of trade and investment in the Indo-Pacific to manage risks of modern slavery in supply chains.

The project will hold a conference to bring together researchers, policymakers, businesses, civil society and representatives from affected communities to develop policy thinking. It will then bring together data on how different trade and investment arrangements shape modern slavery risks in the Indo-Pacific. The datasets will focus on how trade and investment agreements handle modern slavery related issues, how domestic laws and policies related to trade and investment impact modern slavery risks, and on government and company responses to allegations of forced labour in China's Xinjiang province. Alongside this, the team will produce case studies on China, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

Research teams: Professor James Cockayne, Professor Facundo Albornoz Crespo, Professor Todd Landman, Dr Katarina Schwarz, Dr Timothy Masiko, Dr Oana Burcu, Dr Sabina Lawreniuk (University of Nottingham), Chris Peel (Anti-Slavery International), Dr Jason Wood (University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus)

More information