Publication of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner's Annual Report 2020-2021


The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has published her Annual Report for 2020-2021. The Annual Report has been laid before Parliament today by the Secretary of State (Home Secretary) in accordance with the Modern Slavery Act (2015).

The Annual Report outlines the Commissioner’s work so far to achieve her objectives as outlined in the Strategic Plan 2019-2021, within the four priority areas of: improving victim care and support; supporting law enforcement and prosecutions; focusing on prevention; and getting value from research and innovation.

Read the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Annual Report 2020-2021


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

“The Modern Slavery Act (2015) sets out my role to encourage good practice across the UK and my strategic plan outlined how I intended to achieve that. This report is structured around the four priorities in the strategic plan and details my activities since the release of the previous Annual Report in September 2020.

Over the last year we have witnessed impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on modern slavery both in the United Kingdom and overseas. As predicted by Delta 8.7 this has included heightened risks for those already exploited, increased risks of exploitation and disruption to response efforts. The pandemic has also greatly affected the way in which I was able to carry out my statutory responsibilities as my work, and that of the team, went online. However, although my in-person contact with survivors and frontline workers has not been possible and I have very rarely travelled, the use of online platforms has enabled me to speak at over 80 events.

I have continued to develop my approach to listen carefully, to take an independent view and base my contribution on evidence and data.

While some progress has been made, there is still much to do to support victims to become survivors living lives of sustainable independence. I remain convinced that the considerable research activity in this area could be contributing so much more to our practical understanding of what works in both survivor support and prosecution of offenders.

The pandemic has illustrated the vulnerability of workers and supply chains and I have placed priority on encouraging good practice in business, financial institutions, and labour market organisations. I am proud of our work on what businesses should learn from the UK’s largest anti-slavery prosecution, Operation Fort. A practical review led to good engagement with the supermarkets, the development of the IASC maturity matrix and a modern slavery intelligence network established by business. We also worked with Themis and the TRIBE Freedom Foundation to collate good practice in financial institutions and our review, ‘An agenda for action across the financial services sector’ led to constructive engagement with over 40 financial institutions.

The protection of victims who commit criminal offences as a direct consequence of their trafficking has continued to be a focus for our work. The prevalence of child exploitation in the county lines drug dealing model means that the statutory defence is frequently raised. A call for evidence prompted a good response and I concluded that there were considerable grounds for concern.

EU Exit and the political focus on immigration both have the potential to impact on modern slavery and we have highlighted these risks to politicians and officials, in the media and in published reports. It is not my role to take a political position on either issue but to be constantly alert to the consequences for the identification of modern slavery victims and the potential to increase the vulnerability of people to traffickers and exploitative employers.

The challenge of ending modern slavery has undeniably been exacerbated by the pandemic; However the resolve to “build back better” affords us great opportunity to work collectively at the local, regional, national and international level in order to meet it. I have been enormously encouraged by the commitment of so many individuals and teams, both in the UK and overseas, as we strive to achieve our common goal.”




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. Her Strategic Plan 2019 – 2021 was launched in October 2019.
  • 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.