Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” But according to the 2017 Global Estimates on Modern Slavery issued by the International Labour Organization, the International Organization for Migration and the Walk Free Foundation, “On any given day in 2016, there were likely to be more than 40 million men, women, and children who were being forced to work against their will under threat or who were living in a forced marriage that they had not agreed to.”

The changing nature of modern slavery requires a collaborative and integrated response to keep the public safe and prevent harm. As the UNAI SDG Hub for Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, De Montfort University (DMU) is at the forefront in the fight against this global challenge with two of its faculty members, Dr. Laura Pajón and Prof. Dave Walsh, conducting research on practical approaches for effective multi-agency collaborations to end the practice of modern day slavery and bring exploited people to safety.

Such pioneering research led and guided the implementation of the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Modern Slavery Action Group (LLRMSAG) in 2018. Dr. Pajón, a lecturer and member of DMU’s Centre for Law, Justice and Society, advises the group which now involves more than 40 different stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, community and faith-based groups, statutory agencies such as the Fire and Rescue Service, the National Health Service and local authorities, charities, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

The LLRMSAG acts as an intelligence hub to secure integrated local responses to modern slavery crimes. As a result of more than two years collaboration and information sharing between these agencies, the group identified specific risks of sexual, labour and child exploitation and conducted a series of joint operations to disrupt criminality and rescue victims of exploitation. One of the partnership's primary objectives has been educating people on the signs of exploitation and the channels that are available to report the crime or seek advice.

The public plays a vital role in identifying exploitation. “We want the public to understand this is a crime happening here and across the country,” Dr. Pajón explained. “To disrupt modern slavery and ultimately safeguard victims of trafficking, members of the public need to know the signs and, most importantly, where to call if they want to report a crime, seek further advice or ask for help,” she added. To sensitize community members to these issues, LLRMSAG designed and conducted yearly awareness raising campaigns through social media, local radio broadcasts and pop-up events.

As per law enforcement statistics, there has been a 340% increase in the number of modern slavery incidents reported to Leicestershire police and a 30% increase in the identification and subsequent safeguarding of victims. Moreover, training programs have been delivered to over 200 frontline personnel from a wide range of public safety such as law enforcement officers and medical first responders. The assessment of the training suggests an increase in broader knowledge and understanding about modern slavery and specifically a 140% increase in awareness about the National Referral Mechanism, the key national mechanism in the United Kingdom used to identify and assist victims of exploitation.

Anecdotal evidence suggests activities carried out by the group have led to changes and improved working practices in various agencies when responding to potential cases of exploitation; securing an evidence-based approach through constant evaluation and monitoring of actions taken and progress made is critical to ensure the success and growth of the LLRMSAG.

You can learn more about what DMU does to foster Goal 16 and the work of the other UNAI SDG Hubs here.