New research on benefits and barriers to work for survivors of slavery


A new report published today examines the benefits of working, the harms caused by not working, and the current approach to how survivors are assisted to access employment, reintegrate, and work towards stability and independence. The report was written by Rights Lab Research Fellow Kate Garbers and was commissioned by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton. This rapid piece of research was initiated as part of the IASC and Rights Lab collaborative approach to research.

The Benefits and the Barriers to Accessing Employment: Considerations for Survivors of Modern Slavery finds that whilst employment is only a part of the equation in supporting survivors to successfully reintegrate into society and achieve sustainable independence, it is a vital part offering meaning and purpose, routine and stability, and enabling financial independence. Survivors have educational and vocational qualifications and skills, however we are currently unsighted on survivors’ skills sets and work histories. We need to collate this data and work with those with lived experience so that appropriate employment support and pathways can be developed collaboratively.

Although no blanket right to work currently exists in legislation, support services should be in place to support all survivors to gain employment-related skills and experiences in order to reintegrate into society, as and when ready. Regardless of a survivor’s status in the UK, the time in the National Referral Mechanism should be used more productively to develop skills, prepare for employment, financial independence and economic resilience and agency.


The report outlines 4 recommendations: 

  1. Through the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract, the UK government should develop an evidence base to better understand the skills, qualifications, work interests, and work histories of survivors in the National Referral Mechanism.

  2. In collaboration with survivors and the wider UK anti-slavery sector, a standardised suite of modules should be developed to form an accredited work preparation curriculum.

  3. In conjunction with survivors and the wider anti-slavery sector, the UK government should draft an overarching reintegration strategy for survivors of modern slavery. The strategy should provide reintegration pathways and durable solutions for survivors who remain in the UK as well as those who return to their home country.

  4. The UK anti-slavery sector should undertake further research to address urgent data and evidence gaps related to the right to work.

Read: The Benefits and the Barriers to Accessing Employment: Considerations for Survivors of Modern Slavery


Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:

“Many victims and survivors of modern slavery face unacceptably long delays for decisions about their trafficking status. Those claiming asylum then face a further wait and for many, structured employment opportunities are dependent on immigration status.

“Victims and survivors have told me of the positive role employment and education plays in their recovery - developing work and language skills, providing structure and opportunities for community links and integration. Organisations supporting survivors have also expressed concerns about the impact not working has on individuals and their ability to achieve sustainable independence.

“I commissioned the Rights Lab to conduct this research to understand the evidence base on the benefits of work and the harm caused by not working. Kate Garber’s report offers practical recommendations and outlines where further research is required to address this significant barrier for survivors seeking to reclaim their agency and I encourage policymakers to carefully consider the evidence-based proposals set out.”


Zoe Trodd, Director of the University of Nottingham Rights Lab, said:

This research provides evidence for the idea that employment is a vital part of how survivors successfully reintegrate into society and achieve sustainable independence. Achieving the goal of offering all survivors employment-related skills and opportunities would reap benefits for individual survivors as well as for the UK economy.

"As well as providing an evidence base, the report includes a series of recommended next steps for the anti-slavery sector, business, government and the Commissioner to consider in relation to access to work for survivors of slavery. I am hopeful that this collaborative rapid research by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner's Office and the Rights Lab moves us a step closer to understanding what an effective and comprehensive reintegration strategy could look like in the UK.




Notes to editors

  • Part 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 created the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The Commissioner has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences and the identification of victims.
  • The Commissioner is given an annual budget with which to appoint staff and carry out her duties. She is accountable through her strategic plan and annual reports, which the Secretary of State lays before Parliament, setting out the extent to which objectives and priorities are achieved. 
  • The Commissioner's Strategic Plan 2019 – 2021 was launched in October 2019 and her Annual Report 2019 – 2020 was launched in September 2020.
  • Dame Sara Thornton was appointed as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner by the Secretary of State following consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. She took up post at the beginning of May 2019 and her appointment is for three years.
  • The University of Nottingham's Rights Lab is home to the world’s largest group of modern slavery researchers, and home to many leading modern slavery experts. The Commissioner and the Rights Lab have agreed a protocol on a collaborative approach to research and innovation.