British Nationals – The Hidden Victims of Modern Slavery

Dr Craig Barlow

Independent Forensic Social Work Consultant & Criminologist

Honorary Research Fellow, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

cbarlow@craigbarlow.co.uk

September saw the completion, publication and launch of an important scoping study addressing the experiences of British victims of modern slavery and their pathways to safety and recovery.  The research was led by Dr Carole Murphy at The Bakhita Centre, St Mary’s University, Twickenham in partnership with Louise Gleich at Justice and Care. Dr Alicia Heys, modern slavery lecturer at the Wilberforce Institute, and Dr Craig Barlow, Independent Forensic Social Work Consultant & Criminologist and Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute, were co-investigators on the twelve month project. The project was commissioned by the Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre (MSPEC).

The Project

Currently, British nationals represent the highest number of referrals from one nationality into the National Referral Mechanism [NRM] with year-on-year increases rising from 90 in 2013 to 3,952 in 2021. The percentage of referrals that are British nationals has also risen each year from 2016 until 2020. In 2021, although the actual number had risen again, the percentage had dropped slightly: last year, British nationals accounted for nearly a third of all potential victims (31%). The largest proportion of these referrals in 2021 was for criminal exploitation involving children, representing 55% of all referrals of British nationals, with the majority exploited in criminal activities such as ‘county lines’.

Despite this rise no comprehensive study has been conducted on their specific vulnerabilities or to identify their specific recovery needs. That which exists has been largely focused on criminal exploitation and the ‘county lines’ phenomenon or sexual exploitation. The project sought to begin to fill this gap.

Research Objectives

  • Understand the experiences of British nationals who have been trafficked
  • Identify gaps in support needs provided for British survivors
  • Compare with findings from other groups
  • Develop coherent responses to the specific needs of British Nationals
  • Provide an evidence base for improved grass-roots delivery of support for British survivors
  • Provide an evidence base to influence policy on the support needs of British survivors

The project resulted in a series of publications, conferences and events culminating in the final report, launched at the House of Lords, and hosted by Lord McColl, on September 6, 2022.

Publications and Conference Papers

The literature review for this project was adapted for a journal article  and published  at the beginning of September:  A Review of Modern Slavery in Britain: Understanding the Unique Experience of British Victims and Why it Matters – Alicia Heys, Craig Barlow, Carole Murphy, Amy McKee, 2022 (sagepub.com)

As part of the research, Craig undertook a critical review of the current criminal and civil legislation and justice system in the UK and presented some of the findings of this review in a paper at the British Society of Criminology’s annual conference hosted by Surrey University on June 29. His paper ‘British Victims of Modern Slavery: Journeys into Criminal Exploitation and Alternative Interventions’ critiqued the current legal and policy response to the criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, building on his doctoral research and recent work published with Alicia Keys, Simon Green and Beth Derby.

We followed this up with two conference papers in The Netherlands, at the fifth global meeting of the Slavery Past, Present & Future Conference at Webster University, Leiden. We were joined by Professor Simon Green who presented a paper with Craig focusing on child trafficking and criminal exploitation while Alicia and Carole presented early findings from the British Nationals project.

The Final Report

Identifying Pathways to Support British Victims of Modern Slavery towards Safety and Recovery: A Scoping Study  surveyed and interviewed over 50 professionals working with people affected by modern slavery, as well as interviewing seven survivors, to paint a complex picture of systemic barriers creating social and economic vulnerabilities in relation to modern slavery. The lack of awareness amongst services to intervene early and protect British nationals from exploitation was a key feature.

Carole Murphy said, “Our research shows that there’s a huge gap in knowledge about the potential for British nationals to be exploited in modern slavery. This lack of knowledge and understanding results in them not being offered the same support as other people…[British nationals] are commonly failed by the authorities, facing what one respondent in this study referred to as ‘a cycle of closed doors’.

“What sets British citizens affected by modern slavery apart from other potential victims is that they have regularly come into contact with social services, schools and education institutions, mental and physical health professionals even before their exploitation starts. Despite this, agencies that are designed to support them regularly miss opportunities to protect them from being exploited.”

Moving Forward

The report recommends implementing a public health approach to modern slavery to prioritise prevention and early identification of British nationals, including reviewing legislative protections for survivors. At regional and local levels, the report proposes implementing community awareness and resilience programmes and developing multi-agency modern slavery partnerships.

It also advises providing training to frontline professionals likely to encounter potential victims of modern slavery, specifically addressing the experience of modern slavery for British nationals.

Furthermore, it recommends integrating the approach to supporting people who have experienced modern slavery, including improved communication between services provided through the NRM and local authorities, as well as the Crown Prosecution Service in cases of criminal exploitation.

Telling Stories of the Hidden Colonial Histories of Our Geological Institutions

Dr Munira Raji

Postdoctoral Researcher

Department of Geography, Geology & Environment

University of Hull

m.raji-idowu@hull.ac.uk

The ‘Decolonising UK Earth Science pedagogy – from the hidden histories of our geological institutions to inclusive curricula‘ project focuses on exploring the unrecognised knowledge upon which the foundational institutions of Earth Science are built and how this legacy creates modern-day inequity in our discipline. It aims to begin dismantling this inequity by taking a decolonising Earth Science pedagogy and curriculum approach. The project brings a number of institutions together: the University of Hull (Geology and the Wilberforce Institute); the University of Leeds; Queen’s University of Belfast; Sheffield Hallam University; the British Geological Survey; the Geological Society of London; and the Royal Geographical Society.

It was during the late eighteenth century that many of the principles, theories, laws and practices that shape the (Western) academic discipline of Earth Science were established (Sangwan, 1993). Geology emerged as a specialised branch of science in the colonial state, playing an important role in locating the mineral resources that were needed to fuel growing industrial societies. The foundations of the field, and the institutions that arose during this time, benefitted from, and perpetuated, resource extraction and the knowledge it required, and were essential tools for imperial development and expansion (Rogers et al., 2022). This project will examine the integral role British geologists played in the quest for industrialisation and the expansion of British colonial rule in Africa and India from the late eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. Exploitable deposits of coal, copper, iron, and limestone’s essential smelting flux were vital for the long-term development of steamship lines, railways, and industry, for example. Mineral surveys thus became potent tools in the hands of the colonising British and ensured that geologists worked hand in hand with the most powerful organisations for colonial exploitation.

Left Image: Surveyor and locals panning for gold in alluvial workings. Right Image: Surveyor in dugout canoe. Images downloaded from the British Geological Survey, E.O. Teale photograph collection ©NERC. (Source: Special collections/ E.O. Teale photograph collection 1900s-1930s (mostly Africa))


Geologists recruited through the Colonial Office in London played a significant role in identifying which territories were resourceful. The first Colonial Mineral Surveys started in Southern and Northern Nigeria and Nyasaland between 1906-1909, and the first Colonial Geological Survey was established on the Gold Coast in 1913. At the end of the First World War, the British government promoted and intensified geological surveys in several African territories of the Empire – Uganda, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in 1918, Tanzania in 1925 and Kenya in 1933. Some geologists were heralded for their pioneering discoveries. Sir Albert Ernest Kitson (Fellow of the Geological Society of London, Principal mineral surveyor in Southern Nigeria and Director of the Gold Coast Geological Survey) is credited with the discovery of economically significant deposits of coal in Southern Nigeria and manganese, diamonds, and bauxite in the Gold Coast.

Illustrative photographs of Mineral Survey party with Nigerian locals. Images taken from Southern Nigeria: Some Considerations of Its Structure, People, and Natural History by Albert Ernest Kitson, 1913. Source: The Geographical Journal, January 1913, Vol. 41, No. 1 (January 1913), pp. 16-34. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1778485

Local people were used as guides, carriers, labourers, and camp guides in menial jobs that did not pay for their geological expertise, even though our investigations have revealed some local knowledge was cited in reports and publications. However, the first Nigerian to be employed as a geologist in the Colonial Geological Surveys was Okezie, C.N. (BSc), who was not appointed until 1954.

In addition, though local use of these resources may have been extensive, opportunities for the indigenous population to benefit from them were often brought to an end under colonial rule. Following discoveries of gold (the Witwatersrand gold field) and coal (in the Transvaal and the neighbouring Natal colony), 75,500 British citizens migrated to South Africa in search of mineral wealth, and there was a rapid demand for native lands. The result was The Natives Land Act of 1913, which reserved most of the land for White ownership, and forced many Black farmers and landowners to work as wage labourers on land that had previously been under their control. In 1930, after the British geologist, Major John D. Pollet had reported the discovery of diamonds in Sierra Leone, digging for minerals by native Sierra Leoneans was made illegal.

Other colonising European powers practised the use of geology for colonial expansion in Africa and the exploitation of its mineral resources. The Hidden Histories project aims to explore these themes further, uncovering untold stories of using Earth Sciences as a tool of exploitation. It will reveal how local guides and intermediaries underpinned the activities of the colonial surveys and hopes to identify specific instances of where and how local and indigenous geological knowledge was exploited during colonial exploratory surveys and in the construction of the modern discipline of Earth Science. In addition, we aim to make explicit the exclusion of different minority groups in geological exploration and knowledge production. This will support the first part of our project – to decolonise the Earth Science curriculum as it is taught in the UK. The second part will be to develop open-access educational resources that academics can incorporate into their programmes on these themes. A project website with our findings and decolonisation resources is coming soon – watch this space!