The right to be free from slavery and forced labour is protected by Article 4 of the Human Rights Act.

How might this right be relevant to my life? 

  • If you are forced to work for little or no money
  • If you are forced to work and cannot leave or escape, for example your employer has taken away your passport
  • If you are unable to refuse to work because you are frightened and/or are being threatened. These threats might by physical or psychological
  • If you are forced to work to pay off a debt.

Slavery and forced labour are often described as modern slavery and can include:

  • Domestic slavery
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Forced labour in construction sites, farms, car washes, manufacturing etc
  • Being forced into crime, for example children and young adults being made to traffic drugs.

It is important to note that this right does not apply to:

  • 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.

Can my right to be free from slavery and forced labour be restricted by a public official? 

No the right to be free from slavery and forced labour is an absolute right.  

The government and public authorities have a duty to protect people from slavery, servitude and forced labour, through laws, investigations and practical help. 



What duties do public officials have? 

To respect your right: 

This means that public officials should not breach your right to be free from slavery and forced labour.  

To protect your right:

This means that people working in public bodies have to take reasonable steps to ensure that you are free from slavery and forced labour. 

To fulfil your right: 

This means that if you have not been protected from slavery and forced labour government officials need to investigate why this happened and take steps to try and stop the same thing happening again.  


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, 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 in the UK has become an offence under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

(Asuquo v The United Kingdom, 2012)

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)