Universal Periodic Review 2022: Scottish Government Position Statement

This position statement sets out the action we've taken in devolved areas since 2017 to respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights of everyone in Scotland.

12. Human Trafficking and Exploitation

Human trafficking is an appalling abuse of human rights, including the right to liberty and security, the right to be free from slavery, and the right to be free from gendered violence. The United Nations has also acknowledged that some human rights are also relevant to the causes of trafficking, such as the right to an adequate standard of living, and that some human rights are relevant to the response to trafficking, such as the right to a fair trial[479]. The Scottish Government is clear that there is no place for human trafficking in Scotland or anywhere else, and we are committed to ensuring victims get the help and support they need.

Furthermore, we are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Scotland’s children and young people. All children have the right to be loved, cared for and protected from harm, and to grow up in a safe environment in which their rights and needs are respected.

A) Tackling Human Trafficking

In May 2017, the Scottish Government published its first Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy[480], which sets out three focus areas as part of the overall vision of eliminating human trafficking and exploitation:

  • to identify victims and support them to safety and recovery;
  • to identify perpetrators and disrupt their activity;
  • to address the local and global conditions that foster trafficking and exploitation.

Each action area is led by an implementation group with membership ranging across government, law enforcement, victim support, local authorities, business, non-governmental organisations and academia. The Scottish Government published a review of the Strategy[481] in May 2020 and the fourth annual Trafficking and Exploitation Progress Report[482] in January 2022.

In October 2018, the Scottish Government published guidance for businesses on how to identify and mitigate the risks of human trafficking and exploitation across their operations and supply chains[483]. In October 2019, the Scottish Government published guidance for health care workers on recognising the signs of human trafficking and exploitation and how to respond if they have concerns[484], and COSLA published guidance to support local authorities in identifying, referring, and supporting victims of human trafficking and exploitation, and in disrupting and deterring criminal activities[485].

In April 2021, Police Scotland provided a submission to the UNSR on Contemporary Forms of Slavery[486] to inform his report on the role of organised criminal groups in contemporary forms of slavery, which was published and presented to the United Nations General Assembly later that year.

In light of recent events in Ukraine, the Scottish Government has established a human trafficking and exploitation group to enable subject experts and partner agencies to exchange information on emerging issues and escalate these into the wider governance arrangements set up by the Scottish Government in response to the crisis. The group is supporting a multi-agency response to mitigate the risks of trafficking and exploitation for those arriving in Scotland from Ukraine.

B) Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges and risks to potential victims of trafficking as lockdown restrictions took effect. The early phase of the pandemic highlighted the challenges of pivoting to a remote support model. For example, digital exclusion was a significant issue, affecting survivors supported by both TARA[487] and Migrant Help[488]. Digital devices were initially accessed through the Connecting Scotland Fund[489], and the Scottish Government subsequently worked closely with both organisations to ensure funding was available to purchase smartphones or other digital devices for all survivors. This helped to remove barriers to recovery and enable face-to-face communication between clients and their support providers, while also facilitating remote psychological support delivered by the NHS and access to online English for Speakers of Other Languages classes.

As part of the response to labour exploitation during COVID-19, Police Scotland launched Operation Perceptive, focussing on victims of trafficking who were potentially being exploited by organised crime groups. The Operation targeted exploitation in the areas of agriculture, food processing and fisheries as part of a multi-agency response, with officers visiting over 50 premises covering in excess of 5,000 staff.

The focus on labour exploitation continued with the launch in March 2021 of Police Scotland's “Break the Chain” media campaign. A five-week media campaign was supported by a webinar for partners, social media messages and media interviews with senior officers. During the campaign window, Police Scotland began investigating Operation Barramundi, the largest safeguarding case for labour exploitation in agriculture undertaken in Scotland.

C) Implementing V.C.L & A.N v the United Kingdom

In February 2021, the European Court of Human Rights made clear in its judgment in V.C.L & A.N v the United Kingdom that the relevant authorities have a responsibility to carry out a dual investigation of any criminal offence committed by a victim of human trafficking and exploitation and the potential trafficking that may have led to the offence. While this was existing practice within Police Scotland, the requirement to carry out a dual investigation has been reiterated to all officers and staff in a note from the Assistant Chief Constable for Public Protection detailing the ruling and the associated changes to guidance it has required. This note was complemented by a briefing to all Human Trafficking Champions across local policing divisions, and Police Scotland are in the process of amending their Human Trafficking Standard Operating Procedure.

Section 8 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015[490] places a duty on the Lord Advocate to prepare and publish instructions for prosecutors about the prosecution of suspected or confirmed victims of the offence of human trafficking and the offence of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. In response to the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement, the Lord Advocate’s Instructions were updated in August 2021[491] to make explicit that prosecutors should:

  • direct Police Scotland to refer all potential victims of trafficking or exploitation to the NRM if this has not already been done – although for adults this is only possible if they consent to the referral;
  • await the outcome of the NRM process before making final decisions about the prosecution of potential victims of trafficking or exploitation, unless there is no alternative but to proceed.

COPFS continues to apply the Lord Advocate’s Instructions, which include strong presumptions against the prosecution of victims of trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour in relation to offences committed as a consequence thereof.

D) Child Victims of Trafficking

Child victims of trafficking continue to be looked after and accommodated under section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995[492], and the Scottish Government’s Child Trafficking Strategy Group is taking forward the 18 child-specific actions in the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy (see Section 12(A)). The Strategy is clear that support and protection for child victims of trafficking in Scotland should be provided within the context of Scotland’s child protection system and the national Getting It Right for Every Child (“GIRFEC”) approach to improving outcomes for children and young people.

In January 2018, the Scottish Government published revised Age-Assessment: Practice Guidance[493] to reflect section 12 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015[494] which requires that where the age of a victim of human trafficking is uncertain but there are reasonable grounds to believe they are under 18 years of age, the relevant authorities must presume the victim is a child for the purpose of receiving immediate support and services until their age is formally established. The revised guidance includes a specific appendix to support taking a trauma-informed approach to age-assessment.

In October 2020, the Scottish Government published a research paper on Child Trafficking in Scotland by the University of Stirling[495]. The study focused on the unique needs of children and young people who had been victim to trafficking and highlighted improvements to current practice to ensure these children get the right help at the right time. The research includes interviews with trafficked children and young people in Scotland. Those first-hand accounts will inform how we continue to improve the support and services available.

In 2020 and early 2021, the Scottish Government funded a series of training sessions to support operational partners with implementing the guidance, delivered remotely by legal experts. A series of similar sessions were delivered in early 2022. The Scottish Government plan to further review Scotland’s Age Assessment Guidance[496] in light of the passage of the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Act 2022[497].

The Scottish Government continues to fund the Scottish Guardianship Service, which provides a guardian to victims, and those suspected as being victims, of child trafficking. In August 2019, the Scottish Government publicly consulted on implementing the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian (“ICTG”) service. The ICTG service will, for the first time, put the role of the Guardian on a statutory footing with other support services and will be a national service available to all children who are victims of trafficking, as well as unaccompanied children seeking asylum. The Scottish Guardianship Service will continue to provide a Guardian to victims of child trafficking until the ICTG service is operational. A tender has been launched to appoint a provider for the service ahead of the service going fully operational in April 2023.

A Home Office pilot programme to devolve child decision-making within the NRM was launched in 2021. The pilot will test whether determining if a child is a victim of modern slavery within existing safeguarding structures is a more appropriate model for making such decisions for children. This approach will enable decisions about whether a child is a victim of modern slavery to be made by those involved in their care and ensure that the decisions made are closely aligned with the provision of local, needs-based support, and any law enforcement response. Glasgow City Council was selected as a pilot site and is currently the only Scottish local authority participating. The Home Office published guidance to support decision-makers participating in the pilot programme in Scotland[498]. Initially the pilot was scheduled to run for 12 months but it has been extended to run until spring 2023.

E) Child Exploitation

In September 2021 the Scottish Government published National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland[499], which includes advice on identifying and supporting victims of child trafficking and exploitation and reflects learning from recent cases. The Scottish Government has established a national implementation group to support this phase of work.

This guidance provides updated information on Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (“CSAE”) and Child Criminal Exploitation to support local areas in developing effective, evidenced-based responses[500]. This action is strengthened further by The Promise foundations[501], proposals to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law, and Scotland’s GIRFEC approach. We continue our funding commitments to strengthen early intervention and prevention to better protect children and young people in Scotland from abuse and neglect.

The Scottish Government’s response to this threat is also supported by a range of action in a number of interconnected areas, including Scotland's Serious Organised Crime Strategy[502], the Cyber Resilience Learning and Skills Action Plan[503], Scotland’s Digital Strategy[504], the National Internet Safety Action Plan[505], the Curriculum for Excellence[506], Equally Safe[507], the Child Protection Improvement Programme[508], delivery of the proposals of the Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Involving Children and Young People[509], the Chief Medical Officer’s Rape and Sexual Assault Taskforce[510], and the Joint Strategy for Policing[511], as well as the passing of the Disclosure (Scotland) Act 2020[512], the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019[513], and the Redress for Survivors (Historical Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Act 2021[514].

F) Online Safety

In February 2022, to correspond with Safer Internet Day, the Scottish Government launched a major new online safety public awareness campaign, which was aimed at advising the parents and carers of children aged 8-11 on how to help keep children safe online. This campaign reached around 92% of parents and carers of children in that age group in Scotland. Of those taking part in an online evaluation survey, more than nine out of ten participants who were aware of the campaign reported taking action as a result of it.

As part of the campaign, we also launched a new CSAE Hub on the Scottish Government’s Parent Club website[515]. This follows a similar successful national communications campaign in March 2021 focused on helping parents and carers spot the signs CSAE, which reached hundreds of thousands of Scots.

The Scottish Government welcomes UK Government efforts to improve online regulation and to better protect children in the digital world through the Online Safety Bill[516] introduced in the UK Parliament in March 2022. This legislation must make a genuine difference to the safety of children online. The Scottish Government will continue to engage with the UK Government and work with stakeholders on this important legislation.


Email: ceu@gov.scot

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