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Prevention of adult sexual and labour exploitation in the UK

Research considering what does or could work to prevent modern slavery

Published: 9th March 2022

This report, entitled, ‘Prevention of adult sexual and labour exploitation in the UK: What does or could work?’ is a Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC) research project. It was developed by Elizabeth Such, Habiba Aminu, Amy Barnes, Kate Hayes (University of Sheffield), Modupe Debbie Ariyo (AFRUCA, UK BME Anti-Slavery Network), Robin Brierley (West Midlands Anti Slavery Network). The research was funded by the Modern Slavery PEC as part of our responsive research programme. The Modern Slavery PEC is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

This research explored what does or could work in the prevention of two forms of modern slavery among adults in the UK: labour and sexual exploitation. It examined what has been tried in prevention programmes, projects and initiatives, not including legal or policy interventions, and considered promising practice.

Key findings

  1. A ‘whole systems’ approach to modern slavery prevention is required. Informed by people with lived experience, this research proposes a new definition of modern slavery prevention that includes intervening before harm occurs, intervening early and treating harms after they have occurred.
  2. There are five key pathways to prevention and 25 types of interventions. The pathways are enabling access to resources, promoting literacy, building power and control, deterrence and disruption, and building partnerships.
  3. How to prevent exploitation is poorly understood and has rarely been evaluated to a high standard. Most current evidence focuses on treating harms after they have occurred
  4. Current promising practice includes ensuring new prevention interventions are guided by clear principles, community-based and survivor-led initiatives, a ‘whole systems’ response at a national and local level.

Five pathways to prevent modern slavery

1. Access.

Ensuring all people had access to the fundamental things in life e.g. basic financial resources, a secure and safe home, access to essential services, dignity and rights.

2. Literacy.

Enabling the development of knowledge and in-depth understanding of exploitation, harms and rights among different populations, including victims, survivors, people at risk, statutory and non-statutory agencies and the public, as well as the skills to take action at personal, community or organisational levels.

3. Power & control.

Building individual and community control, power, resilience and opportunities to thrive, particularly among people and communities at risk and those who had already been exploited.

4. Deterrence & disruption.

Impeding, disrupting and deterring perpetration e.g. through law enforcement practices or initiatives for early detection.

5. Partnership.

Building partnerships through coordination and the pooling of resources that enhances the preventative response, for example of local anti-slavery partnerships or networks.

12 principles for modern slavery prevention programmes

  1. Harm avoidance and primary prevention first. Seek to prevent exploitation from happening in the first instance.
  2. Harm minimisation and reduction. Minimise harm by intervening early and reduce harms through effective action driven by the Human Trafficking Foundation Survivor Care Standards.
  3. Promote wellbeing by generating opportunities for people to thrive.
  4. Take a whole systems approach. Develop a strategy to promote a whole system of prevention in partnership with relevant partners.
  5. Ensure equity. Some groups and individuals have a better chance of accessing services and systems that can support their wellbeing and prevent the likelihood of encountering exploitation. Identify who is relatively disadvantaged and find ways of making sure everyone has the same chance of help and support.
  6. Attend to issues of trust. Affected communities and survivors may distrust existing services and systems. Tailor your approach to promote trust between service users and professionals and within communities.
  7. Cultural competence/safety and gender sensitivity. Design and deliver services that meet the needs of affected people and communities in a way that is sensitive to their experiences and backgrounds.
  8. Develop interventions and systems that are informed by affected people and communities. Develop things ‘with’, not ‘for’ people.
  9. Monitor and evaluate. Build in monitoring and evaluation systems and processes from the start.
  10. Clear theory of change. Be clear about how your interventions are intended to work and how they will function within a broader system of factors that may work against the prevention of exploitation.
  11. Risk assessed. Undertake an assessment of how interventions may risk harm as well as prevention. Identify if/how risks can be mitigated, following the basic principle of ‘do no harm’.
  12. Committed leadership on prevention. Ensure prevention activity is led consistently and collectively

Priority recommendations

For the UK Government and devolved administrations:

  • The current review of the Modern Slavery Strategy should set out how prevention is defined and delivered across the Government
  • New intervention programmes should demonstrate a Theory of Change with a pathway to prevention, consider the activities that this research identifies as promising practice
  • Evaluation of the Modern Slavery Prevention Fund should consider mapping funded interventions against the five pathways and 25 intervention types listed in this research
  • Integration of modern slavery concerns into the design and implementation of wider laws and policies should be considered

For practitioners, funders, partnerships and community and survivor organisations:

  • Organisations funding interventions should ensure there is a clear Theory of Change setting out pathways that will lead to prevention.
  • Funders should consider funding community-led interventions as a priority
  • Awareness raising, education and training interventions should have a focus on deep understanding, ideally working within or led by the community and survivors
  • Anti-slavery partnerships should consider mapping local preventions with a public health framework to identify strengths and weaknesses