“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.”

This week marks over 230 years since William Wilberforce spoke these words in the House of Commons – imploring others to join the cause to abolish slavery.

This week, we reflect on our work supporting survivors of modern slavery, including looking back at our latest Underground Lives research, which since 2017 has explored the challenges faced by survivors of modern slavery with recommendations for change.

At a roundtable event hosted in October 2022, experts discussed Hestia’s eighth report in the Underground Lives series “Aspirational Britain: Survivors of Modern Slavery Want to Work Too.”

Attendees included Baroness Butler-Sloss, the co-chair of the APPG on Human Trafficking on modern slavery, Kevin Hyland, the UK’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner and Caroline Haughey OBE KC, a leading criminal barrister specialising in prosecuting modern slavery and trafficking cases. We were also joined by economists, policy makers, leading modern slavery organisations, and business leaders.

Listen to the below audio summary of the event below, which explores our key findings, all of our recommendations, and thoughts on the report from experts.

In the report, Hestia surveyed 228 modern slavery survivors and found that an overwhelming majority of 96% wanted to work, but many were prevented from doing so. One in four (23%) were educated to university graduate level or above, and half had experience of paid work including in industries currently facing acute labour shortages such as health and social work, accommodation and food services, and construction.

Tuhina Bhattacharyya, Area Manager for Hestia’s MSRT speaking at roundtable event

Tuhina Bhattacharyya, Area Manager for Hestia’s MSRT, said:

“There are many within our service who want to contribute, they have the skills but they’re not able to. While waiting for the positive conclusive grounds decision, they become deskilled, they lose their confidence which negatively impacts their recovery.”

Under the current system, survivors are placed into the Government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – a framework to identify potential victims of modern slavery. More than one third of those who have been supported by Hestia had to wait in the system for more than three years for a decision.

Kevin Hyland, the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner speaking at the roundtable event

Kevin Hyland, the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:

“In countries like Ireland, Malta, Greece – victims of modern slavery are allowed to work. And I know from victims I’ve met in Ireland... those that do come forward, for example in the fishing industry, and are then allowed to work, find that that life regains some normality. They can live. Their children can go to school. And they are accepted in communities.”

Allowing survivors to work during this waiting time would not only benefit them and their employers, but also the economy as a whole.

Caroline Haughey OBE KC, expert in modern slavery and human trafficking, said:

“When we enable someone back into the workplace which is actually what underpins all of this. If they have been a victim of modern slavery we are giving them back the thing that has been taken away from them. The right to be in control, the return to dignity they become, self-governing.”

The Underground Lives report includes a summary of independent analysis conducted by Pro Bono Economics. Pro Bono Economics estimates that extending the right to work to all potential adult survivors of modern slavery while they wait in the NRM could generate net benefits to society of £10m to £41m per year.

Hestia’s recommendations included:

  • Granting all survivors entering the NRM the right to apply for a temporary right to work on receipt of their reasonable grounds decision as part of their journey plan towards recovery
  • Developing recovery pathways to employment
  • Providing a core package of employment-related support for all survivors

Listen to the below audio summary of the event below.