Brexit, immigration and modern slavery

The introduction of the Government’s post-Brexit ‘points-based’ immigration plans, set to come into force in January 2021, have dominated this last week’s headlines with many businesses criticising the proposals. The Home Secretary made it clear in a BBC interview that the government is seeking to attract those with ‘the right talent’ and reduce those coming to the UK with ‘low skills’.

The proposals include widening the definition of skilled workers to include those educated to A-level or equivalent standard, not just graduate level, including carpentry, plastering and childminding. However, other categories will be removed, such as waiting tables and certain types of farm worker. The plans include lowering of the minimum salary thresholds for skilled migrants coming to the UK with a job offer, but there is no visa option for low-skilled migrant workers.

Charities have now raised concerns about how this could drive low-skilled workers into modern slavery and create a black market for cheap labour. The UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation’s last estimate was that there are over 40.3 million people in modern slavery around the world. The UK’s share, estimated by the Home Office in 2014, is that there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery.

What is modern slavery?

Slavery in today’s world is less likely to be about owning other people, but more about control and coercion, whether physical or mental. It includes, amongst others, forced labour, bonded labour, child slavery, forced or early marriage, and human trafficking.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015

In the UK, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 sets out a range of measures to deal with modern slavery and human trafficking. The Act made prosecuting the traffickers easier by consolidating the existing slavery offences; introduced increased sentences for slavery offences and banned the prosecution of victims for certain crimes. Specifically, for businesses, section 54 introduced a requirement for certain businesses to disclose a ‘slavery and human trafficking statement’, publicly reporting how they tackle slavery in their global supply chains.

What sectors could be affected?

The charities raising concerns fear those EU citizens already in the UK who may not be aware of their legal rights after Brexit could potentially fall in the gaps, across the ‘cash in hand’ sectors, including restaurants, social care, food processing centres, construction sites and agricultural workers.

The new proposals will of course benefit some workers and some businesses. Inevitably, if the supply of low skilled workers diminishes, there remains a risk some businesses could hire undocumented workers. With the intertwined fear of reporting exploitation and deportation, there is a real risk of the most vulnerable in society being forced into modern slavery.

We advise our clients on all aspects of employment and immigration law, including how to comply with the Modern Slavery Act 2015. If you want advice on how to prepare your business for Brexit, or need to deal with immigration/employment matters before the end of the transition period, please get in touch today on 0203 146 3549 / e:mail:


All our articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information provided. 

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