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Understanding the value of cultural competency in UK responses to modern slavery

Research project to examine cultural understanding in responses to modern slavery in the UK.

Evidence shows that marginalised communities facing exclusion based on factors such as race, class, sexuality, socio-economic status, or immigration status are more vulnerable to exploitation. It also shows that failing to take these factors into account can make modern slavery responses ineffective, for example, it can make survivors more reluctant to come forward, be identified as victims of trafficking, receive support, and engage with authorities in prosecution cases.

Therefore, improving cultural understanding of marginalised communities is an important factor in improving responses to modern slavery. Professionals working within the sector need to be competent in understanding of different cultures, people, beliefs and orientations to be able to address specific vulnerabilities to exploitation and to make a real difference in improving support provided to people affected by modern slavery from such communities.

However, there is currently limited research in assessing the level and value of cultural understanding of responses to modern slavery within the UK. To address this gap, a collaboration between the Law School/Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull, Shiva Foundation and West Midlands Anti-Slavery Network will work on a research project investigating the role of cultural understanding in improving equity and effectiveness in identification, support provision and legal enforcement related to modern slavery.

The research project will use four case studies from difference geographical areas - the city of Birmingham, the coastal area of Cleveland, rural areas in Humberside, and North Wales - to provide an assessment of the level of cultural understanding of responses to modern slavery.

The research team will aim to answer the following questions:

  1. To what extent can engagement and delivery of services to individuals be improved based on their cultural background and identity?
  2. What are the cultural and identity barriers for people with lived experience of modern slavery to engage with the necessary professionals and organisations?

The research project will map first responder, charities, statutory, and non-statutory responses and will review existing evidence and policies across selected areas in the UK to identify barriers, gaps and good practices to examine how cultural understanding may differ in different regions.

The research will carry out interviews and focus group discussions with first responders, charities, statutory and non-statutory organisations to capture the unique experiences and stories on the current approaches to culturally competent practices. Importantly, the research will also carry out workshops with people with lived experience of modern slavery in each area to meaningfully include their voices and expertise.

Research team: Zahra Shirgholami, Lecturer in Modern Slavery at University of Hull, Philippa King, Managing Director for Shiva Foundation, Dami Omole, Senior Programme Manager for Shiva Foundation, Robin Brierley CEO of the West Midlands Anti-Slavery Network, Andrew Smith, Manager at ACTion to Combat Modern Slavery Justice Hub and coordinator of the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership, Wilberforce Institute.

This research was funded by an open funding call on prevention of modern slavery. The Modern Slavery PEC is funded and actively supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Photo by Diva Plavalaguna