Brexit and Modern Slavery


A report from the Anti -Trafficking Monitoring Group, sets out the likely impact of Brexit on the UK’s efforts against modern day slavery. Recommendations are included on the steps to take to mitigate against the potential risks to the UK’s anti- trafficking efforts.

The report outlines the situation as it stands currently, what the main issues are and what the likely situation will be post-Brexit.

The purpose of the briefing is to review the extent to which the UK’s membership in the EU has influenced national anti-trafficking efforts,
and consider if and how Brexit may impact the UK’s ability to combat modern slavery and protect its victims. Where possible, recommendations have been made on the steps to take to mitigate any potential risks posed by Brexit to UK anti-trafficking efforts.

Prosecuting modern slavery
– Trafficking networks can span several countries and even continents. Given the
transnational nature of modern slavery, international cooperation in law enforcement is
– To this end, the UK has played a leading role in EU criminal justice measures and bodies,
such as Europol, and has benefited considerably from EU support to carry out antitrafficking
operations, such as that provided by Eurojust to establish Joint Investigation
Teams (JITs).
– The UK Government stated that it intends to maintain close cooperative links and
partnerships with the EU in the area of criminal justice; however, access to the direct cooperation
measures is either closed to non-EU Member States, or significantly limited.
– The UK Government’s stated intention to leave the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of
the European Union (CJEU) seems to pose an existential threat to continued participation
by the UK in European security and criminal justice mechanisms, including those that
enable us to combat modern slavery.

Preventing modern slavery
– Protecting workers’ rights is key to preventing modern slavery: the enforcement of
protective labour laws safeguards workers against abusive employment practices.
– A significant proportion of workers’ rights in the UK stem from EU law. In order to protect
key rights, such as those in the Working Time Regulations, consideration should be given
as to the merit of introducing primary legislation that transposes and enshrines relevant
EU labour law.
– The UK Government’s stated intention is to end the free movement of labour and
introduce new immigration legislation to control and curb immigration to the UK. The risk
post-Brexit is the introduction of overly restrictive immigration policies which increase the
vulnerability of migrant workers to exploitation, as exemplified in the case of Overseas
Domestic Workers. These risks are exacerbated when coupled with a labour market that
favours deregulation and flexibility; in practice, this has resulted in an erosion of workers’
– To prevent modern slavery, adequate safe and legal migration channels need to be
established for workers that meet the realistic needs of the labour market, across all
sectors and skill levels.
– Any future changes to immigration law and policy must be subject to an impact assessment
which considers the likely effect of these changes on efforts to tackle modern slavery,
Brexit & the UK’s fight against modern slavery 3
including whether migrants will be made more vulnerable to exploitation or less likely to
seek protection from abuse.
– There should be a firewall between labour inspection and immigration enforcement.
The Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority, National Minimum Wage enforcement teams,
Employment Agencies Standards Inspectorate and Health and Safety Executive must
have their resources greatly increased in order to enable labour market-wide monitoring
of labour abuses and enforcement of labour law.

Protecting victims
– The rights of victims to support and assistance have been enshrined in the 2011 EU
Trafficking Directive. The Directive has direct effect in national law and its provisions can
be relied on in UK Courts, as observed in the case of L, HVN, THN & T v R [2013] EWCA
Crim 991.
– Currently there is significant disparity across the UK in terms of victims’ rights to support
and assistance: unlike legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Modern Slavery
Act (England & Wales) does not explicitly place obligations on Ministers to provide
support and assistance to victims.
– The EU Trafficking Directive may be transposed into UK law through the Repeal Bill,
however there is a risk that it may be unilaterally repealed post-Brexit by Ministers, without
reference to Parliament. If this occurs, then victims of modern slavery in England and
Wales will be unable to look to domestic legislation to claim their rights to support.
– To end this disparity across the UK and potential post-Brexit uncertainty, a legal duty
to assist, support and protect victims of modern slavery should be introduced through
primary legislation in England and Wales prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
– The EU has taken a leading role in coordinating and funding anti-trafficking efforts
across Europe, for instance through instituting an Anti-Trafficking Coordinator and the
creation of an EU Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings. As part of
Brexit negotiations, the UK must make whatever compromises are necessary to maintain
membership of these mechanisms.
– EU funding streams, in particular the European Social Fund, have provided an important
resource for UK charities. The risk post-Brexit is that UK organisations and public bodies
will lose access to these various funds.
– UK NGOs will continue to individually collaborate with their counterparts in other EU
Member States, however continued access to formal EU platforms and networks will have
to be negotiated.
The UK’s forthcoming exit from the EU risks jeopardising the progress made domestically in
tackling modern slavery, preventing it and protecting its victims. To minimise these risks, the Anti-
Trafficking Monitoring Group recommends the following minimum safeguards, to be introduced as
a part of the Brexit process:
– The UK Government must pursue access to European criminal justice and security
measures to the greatest extent possible, and continue to prioritise law enforcement
cooperation as part of the Brexit negotiations.
– To the extent that it allows such continued cooperation, the UK must accept some measure
of the jurisdiction of the CJEU.
4 Brexit & the UK’s fight against modern slavery
– Prior to the UK exiting the EU, primary legislation must be introduced which transposes
the rights of victims to support and assistance, as detailed in the EU Trafficking Directive,
into domestic law in England and Wales.
– The UK Government should introduce primary legislation which transposes EU labour law
that protects workers’ rights.
– The UK Government must undertake an impact assessment for any new proposed law
and policy related to immigration to assess its likely impact on efforts to tackle modern
slavery, including whether migrants will be made more vulnerable to exploitation because
of these changes, and/or less willing/able to seek protection and justice should they

You can read the full report here: