19 March 2018

70 years ago the world came together to set down the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the rights we should all enjoy simply because we are human. This year we'll be celebrating universal human rights, and bringing them home in the Human Rights Act which also marks its 20th anniversary. Join us in the celebrations and sign our digital birthday card for universal human rights here. Read on to learn more about what these rights mean in our everyday lives...

The right to be free from slavery and forced labour was set down in Article 4 of the UDHR, and is now protected in UK law through Article 4 of the Human Rights Act. This right means that slavery, including modern day slavery, and forced labour are prohibited. Slavery is when someone is forced to perform compulsory work, earn little or no wages, and are effectively prevented from leaving or escaping. Forced labour covers situations where a person is coerced or made to work through threats, either physical or psychological.

This right is an 'absolute right', which means slavery or forced labour can never be justified. The government and public authorities have a duty to protect people from slavery, servitude and forced labour, through laws, investigations and practical help. 

It is important to know that the following type of work is not included in the definition of forced labour:

  • work you have to do as part of a prison or community sentence
  • work the government requires you to do in a state of emergency, and
  • work that is part of normal civic obligations, e.g. jury service.

In real life: making forced labour a crime

When Patience was brought to the UK as a domestic worker and nanny, there were no anti-slavery laws or systems in the UK. Patience was forced to work for little or no money, and was subject to physical and mental abuse. Her 'employer' took away her passport.

When Patience managed to escape with the help of a neighbour and reported her experiences to the police, the police force refused to take her allegations seriously. The police closed the case. 

On Patience's behalf, the human rights organisation Liberty argued that the Metropolitan Police Force had failed in its duties to protect and fulfil Patience's human rights. Whilst forced labour was not a crime in the UK at the time, the case against Patience's employer was on the grounds of criminal abuse. 

Since then, holding another person in slavery or servitude or requiring another person to perform forced or compulsory labour has become an offence under UK law. 

(Asuquo v The United Kingdom, 2012)

In real life: justice when the police fail to investigate

Three young Nigerian women were trafficked to the UK. Once in the country, they were abused and forced to work as unpaid servants in people's homes. They said that the police had failed to investigate their allegations over two and a half years. 

They took a human rights case against the police to the UK courts. The police argued that it had not been possible to commence an investigation because the three women had not cooperated, but the court rejected this, and said that the police did "nothing to commence an effective investigation". The court decided that the police were liable for failing to investigate these credible reports of slavery, servitude or forced labour.

(O.o.o. v.  Metropolitan Police, 2011)

Take action, join in!

Show your support and sign our digital 70th birthday card for universal human rights here - it's a quick and simple way to have your voice heard and join others across the UK.

Remember we're running a digital campaign between 14 - 23 March; follow the discussion on social media using #MarchforHumanRights and #celebrating70. We'd love for you to join the conversation.

Check out our 70 years of universal human rights hub for more ways to join in.