Human trafficking: annual progress report

Parliamentary statement by Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson.


Presiding Officer, I'm sure that all in this Chamber agree that human trafficking is a terrible crime and an appalling abuse of human rights. It targets the most vulnerable both across the globe and here in Scotland, and the impact on victims is devastating.

In 2015 this Parliament unanimously passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act, and I laid the first Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy before Parliament in May 2017. The Strategy was the result of extensive joint working and consultation, including through the Cross Party Group on Human Trafficking, and reflects the views of victims themselves.

During this first year of Strategy implementation we have continued to work in partnership with victims, with support organisations such as TARA, Migrant Help and the Scottish Guardianship Service, and with a range of other bodies including COSLA, Police Scotland, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Significant progress has been made, which is set out in the first annual report published today, and I am grateful to all partners who have contributed to this work.
The Strategy sets out a clear structure, with actions falling under four broad headings:

  • the identification of victims and supporting them to safety and recovery
  • identifying perpetrators and disrupting their activity
  • addressing the conditions that foster trafficking and exploitation; and
  • supporting child trafficking victims.

Supporting victims

There is widespread interest in the issue of human trafficking, and guidance has been developed to offer accurate and consistent advice for both professional and public audiences. This covers what human trafficking is, its extent in Scotland, signs to look out for, the impact on victims, how to report concerns and how to access further information.

Police Scotland and partners, have created an e-learning training resource for public sector workers who may come into contact with victims. This has now been published on DVD and distributed through Scottish Government funding.

In terms of public awareness, a standard presentation has been developed, drawing on material from Migrant Help, TARA, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government, and this will be available for use by community groups and anyone with an interest.

Identifying potential victims is the first step but it's vital that effective victim-centred support is in place following this. I announced last year our intention to extend the minimum period of support from 45 days to 90 days. Following unanimous agreement in the Justice Committee, this came into force in April this year, alongside identical provision for victims of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. This 90 day period is double the minimum support period in the rest of the UK.

We have backed this up with substantial increases in funding for Migrant Help and TARA, who support adult trafficking victims in Scotland, as well as more funding for psychological trauma support through the Anchor service.

Child trafficking

Child victims of trafficking are supported through child protection services, and the Strategy includes a section covering the needs of child victims. In January, section 12 of the Act was implemented, ensuring that where doubts exist as to whether a victim is under 18, it must be assumed they are a child until age is established. This will ensure that the individual receives immediate age‑appropriate support.

To support social workers and others undertaking age assessments of potential child victims of trafficking, we published guidance in March following a process of consultation and development with partners.

Tackling perpetrators

Alongside the work to improve support to victims, Police Scotland has led on improvements to the identification and disruption of trafficking.

In March, the first convictions under the 2015 Act were secured, with two individuals sentenced to ten and seven years imprisonment respectively for offences relating to slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

The 2015 Act provided for two new court orders:

  • Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Orders; and
  • Trafficking and Exploitation Risk Orders.

These orders came into force during 2017 and both individuals convicted in this case were also made subject to Prevention Orders, reducing their ability to further exploit others.

The National Human Trafficking Unit within Police Scotland has coordinated intelligence-led operations throughout divisions over the past year focussing on labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, child trafficking, domestic servitude, illegal border activity and Romanian and Vietnamese traffickers. These operations uncovered a range of offences, including criminal activity in respect of drugs, sexual exploitation and brothel keeping.

Police Scotland and partners have undertaken joint days of action, executing warrants, disrupting illegal activities and supporting victims to safety with the assistance of TARA. Police Scotland works closely with European law enforcement colleagues and has arrangements in place, through Europol, to share relevant information with law enforcement agencies across Europe.

This includes joint investigations, for example with Romanian police focussing on individuals involved in trafficking women for sexual exploitation. Police Scotland has also benefited from the secondment of Romanian police officers to support human trafficking operations.

Addressing wider causes

It is not enough to disrupt trafficking when it occurs or support victims after the fact. The vision behind the Strategy is to eliminate trafficking and exploitation, and to do this we need to address the root causes and build a society where trafficking cannot flourish. Businesses and our wider communities have an important role in this.

From August to October 2017, we ran a national awareness raising campaign, featuring a short film screened during advert breaks on television, alongside digital adverts through smartphones and social media.

Over this time, the Modern Slavery Helpline recorded a significant increase in contact from Scotland – from two potential victims per week to ten per week.

To assess the impact of the media campaign, a public survey was undertaken in March and found that awareness of trafficking had increased. Of those surveyed, 87% said they would report trafficking suspicions to Police Scotland – a marked increase from 80% last year.

We are working with businesses in Scotland, and have established a corporate group which is looking into provision of guidance and training, raising awareness and sharing best practice, and improving the quality of Slavery and Human Trafficking Statements.

Conclusion and future priorities

I am happy to report the significant progress made in implementing the Strategy one year on from publication. This has been achieved through joint work between the Scottish Government, COSLA, Police Scotland, support organisations, businesses, and a wide range of other bodies, and will have a positive impact on victims and on efforts to combat trafficking both in Scotland and further afield.

This is good progress, but there is more to do. The report sets out key priorities for the next year, including developing communication channels to raise awareness and trust amongst victims, and further work to engage and support businesses in tackling trafficking. We will make progress on the outstanding Act provisions. On Duty to Notify, a trial implementation is underway with City of Edinburgh Council, we are looking to establish a further trial with other relevant bodies, and we are working to ensure the digital platform currently being developed for the UK National Referral Mechanism will work with Duty to Notify in Scotland. On independent child trafficking guardians, we plan to consult in the autumn on proposed roles and responsibilities, and the existing Scottish Guardianship Service will continue its work until the new statutory arrangements are in place.

A further progress report will be published one year from now, in line with the commitment in the Strategy.

Both development and implementation of the Strategy have been examples of co‑operation, and I want to thank again the many partners who have contributed to this work. This is backed up by the cross-party support we have seen in the Parliament. This has ensured that Scotland is leading the way on tackling and preventing trafficking, and I am confident that working together we will continue to move towards our goal of eradicating human trafficking and exploitation.

Back to top