Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy: first annual progress report

The first annual progress report sets out the progress made during the first year of implementation of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy.

Section 1: Introduction

The crimes of human trafficking and exploitation are human rights abuses which have long-lasting and profoundly damaging effects on victims. These are often hidden crimes which can be difficult to unearth and complex to investigate and prosecute. Trafficking and exploitation are widespread across the world and also take place within local communities across Scotland. They are highly profitable criminal activities which fund sophisticated organised crime networks.

The Scottish Government is clear that the existence of human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland – or anywhere – is unacceptable and cannot be ignored. The Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy, published in May 2017, sets out a clear vision: to work with partners to eliminate human trafficking and exploitation.

This first annual progress report sets out activity that has been undertaken since then to work towards this goal.


The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 (“the Act”) was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament on
1 October 2015. This followed extensive work between the Scottish Government, partners and stakeholders, including the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Human Trafficking.

The Act sets out two new offences:

  • Human trafficking is defined in section 1 of the Act as the recruitment, transportation or transfer, harbouring or receiving or exchange or transfer of control of another person for the purposes of exploiting them. The arrangement and facilitation of these actions also constitutes an offence. This offence does not always require coercive means such as threats or intimidation to be present and it is irrelevant whether the victim ‘consented’ to any part of the action. It also does not require the victim to have been moved.
  • Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour is defined in section 4 of the Act. A person commits this offence when they hold another person in slavery or servitude. A person also commits this offence when they know or ought to know that they are requiring another person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

The Act also introduces new court orders to disrupt activity related to trafficking and exploitation:

  • A Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Order ( TEPO) restricts and disrupts the activities of convicted traffickers, and is available either when the court disposes of a case or on application of the chief constable. The court can impose a TEPO when disposing of a case, either on its own motion or following an application by the prosecutor.
  • A Trafficking and Exploitation Risk Order ( TERO) has similar effect, and is applied for by the chief constable where someone poses a risk in relation to trafficking and exploitation. It does not require a conviction for a trafficking offence in order to be granted.

In addition, the Act provides a range of improved protections for victims, including a statutory duty on Scottish Ministers to provide support and assistance to victims. It also requires the Lord Advocate to issue instructions regarding the presumption against prosecution of persons who are the victims of trafficking, slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour and who have committed offences as a consequence thereof.

The Act requires the Scottish Government to prepare and publish a Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy (“the Strategy”) and to review, and if necessary revise, the Strategy within three years of publication.

The Strategy was developed through a process of co-production: extensive consultation with partners, stakeholder organisations and the general public was undertaken, including formal written consultation and engagement events across the country. A series of focus groups were held with survivors of human trafficking to ensure that their voices were reflected, and that they had an opportunity to influence the policies in the Strategy.

The Strategy was published on 30 May 2017, setting out three key action areas in which progress needed to be made:

  • Identify victims and support them to safety and recovery;
  • Identify perpetrators and disrupt their activity; and
  • Address the conditions, both local and global, that foster trafficking and exploitation.

The Strategy also identified a fourth key area of work around child victims of trafficking and exploitation.

The final section of the Strategy provided a range of measures against which progress could be measured, and undertook that progress would be reported on an annual basis, placing these measures in a narrative context and reflecting the voices of victims.

Three principles underpinned the development of the Strategy, and these have also been central to the implementation process:

  • Focus on victims;
  • Partnership working; and
  • Continuous improvement.

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Implementation structures

The oversight structures that were established for the development of the Strategy have continued in place, with a shift in remit to managing implementation and working towards achieving the outcomes set out in the Strategy.

The Strategic Oversight Group is chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, and includes the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, the Lord Advocate and senior representation from a range of key partners. This group normally meets on an annual basis.

The Strategy Implementation Group is chaired by Scottish Government officials with representation from key partners, including the chairs of the three Action Area Implementation Groups and the Child Trafficking Strategy Group. This group meets on a biannual basis, or more frequently if required.

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For each of the three Action Areas, an Implementation Group takes responsibility for driving forward actions and meeting the outcomes set out in the Strategy. A Child Trafficking Strategy Group has been established on a similar basis. Each of these groups maintains an Action Plan which sets out the details of what the Scottish Government and partners are doing to drive improvement. More detail on the Implementation Groups can be found in later sections of this progress report.

Measures of progress

The final section of this progress report provides the latest available figures for the measures set out in the Strategy.

One clear message that emerges from these figures is the increasing number of referrals through the National Referral Mechanism ( NRM). This reflects potential victims of trafficking and exploitation who have been identified in Scotland and have entered the NRM process. Adults must give informed consent to enter this process; consent is not required where the potential victim is
under 18.

In 2017, a total of 207 NRM referrals were received from Scotland. This is a 38% increase on the previous year. Numbers of referrals have been generally increasing in recent years, but this substantial jump in 2017 exceeds previous increases. A large proportion of the increase relates to male victims of labour exploitation.

These figures represent potential victims being identified, removed from exploitative situations and referred to appropriate support and recovery. The increase suggests that we are getting better at recognising potential signs of activity, sharing concerns, and responding appropriately to meet the needs of victims.

The development and publication of the Strategy generated public interest in the issue of human trafficking, and since then significant work has been done to raise public awareness and encourage people to report concerns. This is described in more detail later in this report. The increase in NRM referrals is evidence that this awareness raising work is having a real impact in helping get people out of trafficking and into appropriate support.

A public awareness survey was undertaken in spring 2017, and repeated in spring 2018, to measure the impact of awareness raising activity. The findings suggest that awareness had improved in relation to trafficking in Scotland and elsewhere in the world, but awareness of trafficking in local communities in Scotland remained low. The survey also showed that more people said they would report concerns to police, and that one in four respondents recognised imagery from the Scottish Government marketing campaign of autumn 2017. Further detail on the findings can be found in section 6.

The measures also provide evidence that police and prosecutors are making use of the new powers in the Act, including convictions in terms of section 4 and the imposition of Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Orders in terms of section 17 of the Act.

Overall, the measures show positive progress, but there is further work needed to fully report on these measures. Engagement with the corporate sector is underway and is described in the section on Action Area 3, but it is not yet possible to report meaningfully on the number of organisations that have action plans that contribute to the aims of the Strategy. This will be a focus of work during the next year.

Looking forward

Each of the following sections sets out key next steps to move forward with implementation of the Strategy, towards the goal of eliminating human trafficking.

The Act is now fully implemented, with the exception of two substantial provisions: the duty to notify and provide information about victims (section 38) and establishing independent child trafficking guardians (section 11). These will both be key areas for development over the next year.

A further annual progress report will be published one year after this publication, and in the year after that, a review of the Strategy will be undertaken, as set out in
the Act.

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