Ford welcomes enhanced UK helpline to tackle modern slavery

Date published: 10 December 2015

Justice Minister David Ford has welcomed the announcement that an enhanced UK modern slavery helpline is to be launched in 2016.

Minister of Justice David Ford, MLA
Ford welcomes enhanced UK helpline to tackle modern slavery

Responding to the Home Secretary’s announcement David Ford said: “This is a positive step forward in the fight against traffickers and slavery masters. These are truly horrific crimes that dehumanise people. I am pleased that victims in Northern Ireland and across the whole of the UK stand to benefit from the enhanced helpline.

“The new helpline has been developed by the UK Government in partnership with the US-based NGO Polaris and with an £1million in start-up funding from It reinforces the value of partnership working and exemplifies how the public, private and third sectors can work together effectively to not only benefit victims but also to support law enforcement in disrupting perpetrators and bringing them to justice.”

The new helpline will be based on an existing United States model, which was developed by Polaris. It consists of a small team of trained operators who are available to answer calls, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in more than 200 languages. Survivors can also ask for help in other ways, including by text message. The hotline operators are able quickly to connect survivors of trafficking to a network of rescue and support services in their locality. The data that is collected as part of these calls is then analysed using cutting-edge software, generating valuable intelligence that can help police to catch and convict criminals.

The intention is that the enhanced UK helpline will emulate many of these features. It is intended that a UK-based NGO will operate the helpline, which will launch next year

Notes to editors: 

1. Modern slavery encompasses human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

2. Since 2007, Polaris has run the 24/7 National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline in the US that helps victims access support services and members of the public to report slavery. As Polaris advises the charity selected to operate UK helpline, it will share many of the resources and tools that it has developed for the US national helpline, and will help partners to tailor these to the UK’s requirement.

3. The new helpline will complement other recent developments in Northern Ireland and across other UK jurisdictions to reinforce our response to slavery and trafficking and to support victims. Such measures include:

a. New slavery and trafficking offences that now carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment;
b. Slavery and Trafficking Reparation orders that encourage the courts to use seized assets to compensate survivors;
c. A duty for specified statutory agencies to report potential cases to ensure an accurate picture of the crime which will come into force in Northern Ireland in 2016;
d. A requirement for businesses trading in the UK with a turnover in excess of £36m to publish an annual statement setting out the steps they have taken to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains;
e. New protections for victims of modern slavery in the criminal justice system, including a statutory defence for survivors of modern slavery so that they are not inappropriately criminalised; and
f. An Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to spread best practice in tackling modern slavery.

4. The National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates that 3,309 potential victims of human trafficking came into contact with the State or NGOs in 2014 (a 21% increase on 2013). The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) - the UK’s framework for referring and supporting victims - received 2,340 referrals of potential victims in 2014 (a 34% increase on 2013). During the same period 45 potential victims of human trafficking were referred to the NRM from Northern Ireland.

5. In September this year the Justice Minister published the first Human Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy for Northern Ireland which sets out the multi-agency response to modern slavery in Northern Ireland and identifies four strategic priorities for action:
a. Pursue - Effective detection, disruption, investigation and prosecution of offenders;
b. Protect and support - Provision of effective protection and support and improved identification of victims;
c. Prevent - Prevent and reduce risk of human trafficking (and re-trafficking) and exploitation in Northern Ireland; and
d. Partnership - Effective, collaborative and joined up partnership working, identification of best practice and lessons learned.

7. All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office on 028 9052 6444. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.

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