Equality and Human Rights

Hidden in plain sight: human trafficking in Wales

Trafficking in human beings is a serious crime and a gross violation of human rights. It is often linked with organised crime and is considered as one of the most profitable criminal activities worldwide. Awareness of the issue has increased in recent years, particularly after high profile cases such as the three women in London were rescued from slavery after 30 years last week.

Image from Flickr by Damian Kennedy Licenced under the Creative Commons
Image from Flickr by Damian Kennedy Licensed under the Creative Commons


In the simplest terms, human trafficking is the movement of a person from one place to another into conditions of exploitation. Examples include sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery and organ harvesting.

There are some difficulties of definition, as various different terms are used inconsistently, and so it is also difficult to get a clear idea of the numbers of people involved in human trafficking due to its illegal and hidden nature.

The UK Parliament Home Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry into human trafficking in 2009, which highlighted the lack of accurate statistical information, but estimated that there are at least 5,000 trafficking victims in the UK.

In 2012, 1,186 potential victims of human trafficking were referred to the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is a 25% increase on the number of referrals in 2011. Of these, 786 were females and 400 were males; 815 were adults and 371 were children. 34 of these victims were in Wales. However, it is widely acknowledged that the official figures are the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Action to combat human trafficking

In England and Wales, the UK Government’s proposed Modern Slavery Bill will seek to consolidate existing offences on human trafficking making the options available to law enforcement, when investigating and pursuing trafficking related charges, administratively simpler and operationally clearer. The Bill will also seek to introduce Trafficking Prevention Orders to place restrictions on those convicted of trafficking offences to prevent them from continuing such criminal activity upon their release, and introduce a UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

Other action by the UK Government includes:

  • the establishment of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which was set up in 2009 to identify, support, protect and promote the rights of victims of trafficking. It is a framework by which the Government meets their legal obligations under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Human Trafficking. Anyone who the relevant authorities have “reasonable grounds” to believe has been trafficked is entitled to a 45 day reflection and recovery period, during which they can access services such as those provided by the Salvation Army; and
  • the National Crime Agency, which became operational in October 2013. It has a key role in using its enhanced intelligence capabilities and coordination functions to target the organised crime groups involved in human trafficking, wherever they are. The UK Human Trafficking Centre has moved into the National Crime Agency as part of the Organised Crime Command.

The response to tackling human trafficking in Wales has been supported by the appointment of an Anti-Human Trafficking Co-ordinator (AHTC). The aim is the role will make Wales a hostile place for human trafficking to exist and to co-ordinate the best possible support for victims.

The Welsh Government is the only government within the UK to employ an AHTC. Creation of the post resulted from a recommendation from the Cross Party Group on Human Trafficking, chaired by Joyce Watson AM. The post, which is funded by Welsh Government, has been in existence since April 2011. In addition to this post, there is:

  • The Wales Anti Human Trafficking Leadership Group, which provides strategic leadership for the delivery of tackling human trafficking in Wales. The Leadership Group co-ordinates collaboration between devolved and non-devolved partners and third sector organisations to plan and support delivery in Wales. The Leadership Group’s Delivery Plan is underpinned by an action plan providing strategic objectives to deliver the Welsh Government’s aim of tackling human trafficking;
  • The Wales NGO Anti-Human Trafficking Frontline Forum Wales, which consists of Barnardos Cymru, BAWSO, New Pathways, Safer Wales and the Welsh Refugee Council -frontline agencies working together to raise awareness and improve services and support for people who have been trafficked in Wales.

Further information

Further information on human trafficking in Wales, the UK and internationally can be found in:

The Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee is currently looking at the issue of human trafficking. The Committee took evidence from the Wales Anti-Human Trafficking Co-ordinator and representatives from the NGO Forum on 20 November, and from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the Welsh Local Government Association on 28 November.


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