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Overcoming cultural barriers to prevention of modern slavery and protection of survivors

Report on cultural influences and cultural competency in the prevention and protection of survivors of modern slavery: insights from the UK and Albania

Published: 27th February 2024

This is a research report: ‘Cultural Influences and Cultural Competency in the Prevention and Protection of Survivors of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking: Insights from the UK and Albania’, based on research conducted by the Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse in partnership with Mary Ward Loreto. This study explored the importance of cultural competence and impact of culture both in terms of service delivery in the UK and prevention efforts centred on Albania.


Since 2018, Albanians have made up the highest number of foreign nationals entering the UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM, a mechanism used to identify and support potential victims of modern slavery), surpassing the number of UK nationals referred as potential victims in 2022. The continued overrepresentation of Albanians in the UK NRM has prompted several studies looking into Albanians and modern slavery and human trafficking. This research focused on understanding the influence of culture on human trafficking and modern slavery prevention, as well as the potential for culturally competent approaches to support survivors within the UK.

Examining Albania as a case study, the research investigated drivers for precarious migration and gathered insights from two distinct groups: Albanian youth and parents (through focus groups); and Albanian stakeholders from various sectors (through a shared learning event). These activities revealed cultural dynamics linked to precarious migration, human trafficking and modern slavery. In the pursuit of contributing cultural insights for prevention initiatives and policymaking on precarious migration, particularly related to trafficking and exploitation, the focus of this project has been on understanding the pivotal role of family in migration decision-making.

Key findings

1. There is no comprehensive approach to culturally competent care for modern slavery survivors.

  • Many practitioners lack adequate understanding of the cultural background of survivors, which may result in survivors feeling misunderstood and discriminated against, resulting in experiencing re-traumatisation for many of them.
  • Survivors are struggling to access services to which they are legally entitled such as quality translation services, which often forces them to attempt to communicate in English themselves, which takes longer and is met with impatience by some frontline staff
  • Gaps in provision and long waiting times reduce trust in the system

2. Representations of Albanian foreign nationals in the UK public debate around migration and modern slavery stereotype and oversimplify complex cultural, but also social or economic, realities affecting them.

  • Survivors report being treated by frontline practitioners as either criminals or defenceless victims, rather than people with agency, resilience, and skills, which adds to trauma and disengagement.

3. Family values - a deep responsibility and commitment to looking after their family and community – was identified by the research as a key driver for precarious migration journeys in the absence of local job opportunities to provide for their family.

  • Family also played a key role in finding informal opportunities abroad and finding money needed for migration, which often leaves people in debt and adds a sense of responsibility to return the favours, adding a layer of vulnerability to exploitation.

Key recommendations

For UK policymakers

  1. Integrate family-focused considerations into migration policies, taking into account the role of culture and family in influencing decisions related to migration.
  2. Recognise that precarious migration can contribute to the risk of modern slavery and human trafficking and advocate for the adoption of a ‘harm on a continuum’ perspective. This perspective recognises that harm is not a one-time event but exists on a continuum, involving various exposures to risk, forms of exploitation and vulnerabilities throughout the migration journey.

For UK practitioners

  1. Adopt the Culturally Competent and Compassionate Care model adapted for the modern slavery sector, to design and introduce compulsory Cultural Competency training for practitioners.
  2. Foster cultural humility among survivors to build understanding and mutual respect between communities.

For funders and knowledge brokers

  1. Facilitate cross-country sharing of insights and lessons on trafficking intervention.
  2. Promote cross-cultural awareness through educational and community engagement projects.
  3. Establishment of fora in both Albania and the UK that foster trust through open dialogue and community building.