Human trafficking and exploitation strategy

Our strategy to work with partners to make Scotland a more hostile place for human trafficking.

Section 1: Introduction

1. Overview

Human trafficking and exploitation are complex and hidden crimes, as well as abuses of human rights and dignity. Trading adults and children as commodities and exploiting them for profit or personal benefit degrades victims and can cause lasting physical and psychological damage. The many purposes for which people are used - including commercial sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, criminal exploitation (for example, benefit fraud and forced drugs cultivation), domestic servitude, sham marriages and organ trafficking - are continually evolving. Victims can be subjected to more than one form of exploitation, e.g. commercial sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation in the form of shop-lifting.

Human trafficking and exploitation are not only international issues. It happens here and is not confined to our cities. There is also a perception that trafficking is about people from outwith the UK, however adults and children, including UK citizens, are trafficked and exploited within and between communities in Scotland and the wider UK.

In October 2015 the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 ("the Act"). This was the culmination of significant work between agencies and across the political spectrum, including the Cross Party Group on Human Trafficking.

One of the requirements in the Act is for the Scottish Government to prepare this Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy and to lay it before Parliament. We will review this Strategy at least every three years.

The Scottish Government has worked with a wide range of organisations and individuals to develop and agree this Strategy. Those who have been most closely involved as part of the Strategic Oversight Group and the Strategy Implementation Group are listed in the Annex.

We have developed this Strategy to bring together and build on all the valuable work already undertaken by the Scottish Government, local authorities, Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS), NHSScotland and others to provide coherent, effective support for victims and take action against perpetrators.

This Strategy also contributes towards Scotland's fulfilment of its obligations under the EU Directive on preventing and combatting trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and in meeting the requirements of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

The Strategy should also be read against the backdrop of other international agreements which relate to this issue, including the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, particularly women and children (Palermo Protocol); the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women ( CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC). The links to these and other relevant documents can be found on the Scottish Government's human trafficking webpage

Finally, the Lord Advocate is the independent head of the prosecution service in Scotland and he exercises his functions independently of government. Similarly courts operate independently of government. The contents of the Strategy should be read in that context.

2. What needs to be done

Our vision, shared with key partners, is a straightforward (although not simple) one - to work to eliminate human trafficking and exploitation. The actions set out here will help us to move towards fulfilment of that vision.

First and foremost is the critical situation of victims of these offences.

Generating greater understanding and awareness of these crimes and their effect on victims is central to our approach. They may not feel able to admit what is happening to them or even see themselves as victims or as being exploited.

We will make victims and those at risk of becoming victims our top priority, supporting them to escape or evade the cycle of exploitation and enabling them to rebuild their lives and recover and exercise their rights. We have sought the views of victims in developing this Strategy and will continue to involve them as the Strategy is implemented.

Victims, both adults and children, can sometimes appear to be criminals themselves, when forced into criminal exploitation.

Where there is a victim there are also perpetrators. There is therefore a need to continue to ensure that agencies with responsibilities in that regard are able to investigate these crimes and disrupt the activities of perpetrators.

Trafficking and exploitation happen as a consequence of a variety of issues such as poverty, criminality and a demand for goods and services, both within countries and internationally. Until we tackle the underlying causes then this problem will continue.

This Strategy therefore identifies three areas of action where we will focus our efforts. Progress in these areas will help us to eliminate trafficking and exploitation.

Action Area 1: Identify victims and support them to safety and recovery.

Action Area 2: Identify perpetrators and disrupt their activity.

Action Area 3: Address the conditions, both local and global, that foster trafficking and exploitation.

3. How we will do it

This Strategy brings together a number of strands in a way that recognises the good work that currently exists, and sets out ambitions for improvement. It identifies the key areas where we must act to effect change and prioritises actions that we must take to eliminate human trafficking and exploitation.

A separate Action Plan, to sit alongside the Strategy, will set out the details of what the Scottish Government and a variety of partners will do to move this agenda forward strategically and operationally.

Three principles underpin our approach: a focus on victims, partnership working and continuous improvement.

Focus on victims

We will seek to engage with the people most affected by human trafficking - the victims and those at risk of becoming victims, finding ways to hear their voices and to take account of their experiences in what we do. The consultation on this Strategy included hearing directly from victims and these views have been reflected here. However, this must be an ongoing process of engagement. This will help us better support them, understand their experiences, prevent re-victimisation and reduce the number of new victims.

Partnership Working

We all need to take action and the Strategy will help deliver the vision. Without the commitment of our partners we cannot deliver this Strategy, and the actions laid out in Sections 3 and 4 need to be read in that context. Local authorities, Police Scotland, COPFS, NHSScotland, Health and Social Care Partnerships, UK agencies and others will play a key role in delivering the Strategy at a national and international level. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will also work closely with these agencies and civil society to help drive forward implementation of the Strategy.

Much work has already been done and continues to be done by many organisations and individuals to raise the profile of this issue and lay the foundations for action.

Stakeholders have been engaged in the development of this Strategy through structures put in place to support its development - the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategic Oversight Group, the Strategy Implementation Group, the Child Trafficking Strategy Group [1] and the Stakeholder Forum. The Strategic Oversight Group and the Strategy Implementation Group have helped to start to build that partnership at a national level. A similar structure will be put in place to oversee the implementation of the Strategy.

The Strategy is national, but will need to be delivered at a local level. Local partnerships are key to this. It may be that existing structures, such as Community Planning Partnerships, evolve to take a lead on human trafficking and exploitation, or it may be that local organisations and agencies develop their own specific structures. A national network across all relevant partner organisations will share information, learning and good practice.

In addition, we will work across the Scottish Government, ensuring policies take account of the needs of the victims of trafficking and exploitation and align our Strategy with these policies to increase effectiveness.

Continuous improvement

We will continually test the results of our activity against our goals, building measurement into what we do, so that we can improve the effectiveness of our initiatives. We will use pilots and trials as required, learning from others, building on our successes and reflecting on our responses. The views of victims will be included in this process.

4. How will we know it is working?

A set of measures to be reported on for the Strategy as a whole is set out at Section 5. Regular Stakeholder Forums will provide an opportunity to consider what progress has been made and to consider what further action may be necessary.


Email: Anncris Roberts

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top