Coronavirus: “Double Blow” to Modern Slaves in Britain

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Although slavery was legally abolished nearly 200 years ago in the UK, Britain is currently home to 136,000 slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kieran Guilbert reported for the Thomas Reuters Foundation that the virus “could prove a double blow for modern slaves in Britain as those showing symptoms are unlikely to stop working or seek help, while other victims may be driven further into debt bondage.”

Most people are trafficked into the UK from overseas, but there is also a significant number of British nationals in slavery. Most people come from a situation of poverty and lack of opportunity, then receive an offer of a seemingly good job in the UK. Often the victim must take a loan from an agency to pay for the recruitment fees and for the journey. When the person arrives in Britain, the job and the conditions that were promised are completely different. Their passport is taken away, and they are told that they need to pay off the debt before they can leave. Violence or threats are common practices, both against the victim as well as their family back home, and many women and girls are also trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Due to the lack of documentation and debts owed, “Most victims who fall ill are unlikely to seek healthcare for fear of being exposed to the authorities and detained, arrested or deported, or because they are forced to keep working in order to survive and pay off debts,”  Kieran Guilbert wrote. Not only is the lack of medical resources available to these modern-day slaves detrimental to their own health, it also poses a threat the health of those around them.

With the enforcement of ‘shelter at home’ orders and outright city shutdowns across Europe, it is clear that distancing practices are a huge factor in slowing COVID-19. The lack of protection and medical assistance offered to these trafficked individuals in Britain disregard the rights afforded to human beings, and the precautions necessary to aid the health of humanity. As Rebecca Chambers, a spokeswoman for Anti-Slavery International would add, “while modern slavery is a problem often unseen, coronavirus makes it a direct problem for all of us.”

The danger that could stand to harm thousands directly, and even more indirectly, has gone completely missed by corporate media. Apart from the ­Thomas Reuters article, only a few other independent sources have touched on similar connections, such as the threat COVID-19 poses to prison inmates and undocumented immigrants. Although the coronavirus pandemic continues to expose to pre-existing flaws and inequalities in global systems, without media awareness, these issues will continue to run rampant.

Source: Kieran Guilbert, “Coronavirus Feared Delivering Double Blow to Modern Slaves in Britain,” Thomson Reuters Foundation, March 24, 2020,

Student Researcher:  Ajeya Adams (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)