Dame Sara Thornton welcomes publication of commentary on the opportunities and challenges of adopting a public health approach to modern slavery


The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice has published a policy and practice article ‘Exploring a public health approach to modern slavery: potential, problems and translating principles into practice’ co-authored by April McCoig, IASC Victims and Partnerships lead, Dr Liz Such, University of Sheffield, and Dr Ines Campos-Matos, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.

Public health approaches have been applied to a range of socially complex and long standing problems in recent years, for example, serious violence. This journal article reflects on the efforts that have been made to consider modern slavery through a public health lens, noting a review of modern slavery and public health published by Public Health England and the University of Sheffield in 2017 and subsequent work identifying an emergent public health approach to modern slavery in 2020.

The article examines some of the opportunities provided by this approach, including improved victim centredness and a focus on the needs of affected communities, as well as some of the potential limitations, such as gaps in data. It concludes that responses to modern slavery have historically been dominated by a criminal justice approach, but that a public health approach which also prioritises a preventative response and incorporates multi-agency partnerships offers an opportunity to re-frame the current approach.

Since the article was drafted in November 2020, the authors have worked with the anti-slavery sector to co-develop a refined public health framework which has been presented to a variety of stakeholders. The IASC has also exchanged correspondence with the Home Secretary encouraging her to embed a public health approach within the UK’s response to modern slavery.



Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton said:

“With its focus on prevention, multi-agency working and evidence of what works, a public health approach can add considerable value to anti-slavery efforts. I am delighted that my office was able to work collaboratively with the University of Sheffield and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to write this reflective piece considering the merits of this approach as well as the potential challenges.

“This work has gained considerable momentum and I am pleased that a guide for anti-slavery partnerships has now been developed to assist stakeholders in translating these important principles into practice at a local level. I am convinced that re-framing our response through a public health lens and ensuring that prevention is at the heart of our approach to tackling modern slavery is a beneficial way forward.”



Access the journal article here.