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How to spot victims of modern slavery

It is estimated that in 2019 there were 40 million people in the world living in conditions of slavery or working under forced or compulsory conditions. In the UK there were an estimated 136,000 victims.

Almost by definition victims of modern slavery are frequently ‘hidden in plain sight’ but there are some tell-tale signs to be aware of. Some are not always a sign of modern slavery or by themselves may not be indicative of slavery. Usually it is a combination of signs that will suggest that someone is a victim.

Accountants in practice frequently visit clients at their offices or onsite (warehouses, factories, depots etc). Accountants in business often do the same. This means accountants are well placed to observe the workforce but they may not realise that they are witnessing modern slavery. This brief guide highlights some of the signs that may be indicative if not conclusive. It maybe that such signs will also support financial indicators that suggest modern slavery may be occurring.

It is worth remembering that the victims may be hidden but they are numerous: there are an estimated 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK and over 40 million worldwide.

If you do suspect slavery do not approach the victims themselves as this may place them (and you) in danger. You may also inadvertently alert the perpetrators and enable them to remove the victims and any evidence.

Physical signs

  • unkempt, or malnourished appearance 
  • wear the same clothes every day or for long periods
  • lack the right equipment for the job: 
  • On construction sites they make lack protective equipment or expensive tools 
  • On farms they may lack gloves, sensible shoes or rely on makeshift  protection against the elements 
  • In hotels or offices cleaners may lack gloves or aprons
  • untreated injuries. 
  • appear frightened, withdrawn, or show signs of physical or psychological abuse 
  • possess limited language skills or limited English if from abroad
  • few personal belongings

Other less obvious signs

  • Someone pays for their travel or food 
  • Someone speaks for them if questioned or they are very reluctant to speak to strangers or the authorities
  • Picked up and dropped off from work always in the same way or at unusual times i.e. very early or late at night or in groups
  • Work in all weathers and/or long hours with few , if any breaks
  • unsure of their own address
  • live in group accommodation, often onsite but not always 
  • no personal  identification on them
  • appear to be under the control of someone else and reluctant to interact with others
  • unable to move around freely or unsure if they can 


What is modern slavery and how can accountants spot it

In this webinar Dr Jane Berney explains what modern slavery is and describes some of the indicators that can help accountants spot it.