Ground-breaking research on modern slavery in Oxford published by Oxford City Council and Elmore Community Services

Published: Monday, 14th February 2022

A ground-breaking new report commissioned by Oxford City Council and delivered by Elmore Community Services uncovers the true extent of modern slavery in Oxford.

Modern slavery includes the crimes of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced labour, forced criminality and organ harvesting. Victims might be working for organised groups or family members, and in a range of settings.

The report brought together data from partners across the public and voluntary sector that deal with the issue, and the analysis reveals that modern slavery in Oxford may be 200% higher than the level of cases reported to the police.

It can be a hidden crime and the nature of the coercive control used to enslave people means victims are often themselves unaware of the true nature of their exploitation.

Victims can also be too scared of consequences to report their abuse to police. As a result, it can be the support services victims turn to that have the most contact with them.

The Council has recently appointed Nicola Bell as its first Anti-Slavery Coordinator to manage ‘disruption’ activities in Oxford and across the county, coordinating campaigns, victim support, multi-agency operations and taking forward the recommendations from the report in partnership. She will co-chair the Oxfordshire Anti-Slavery Network alongside Elmore’s Chief Executive Tom Hayes, and work with local communities to gain insight and develop interventions to address modern slavery.

Many different organisations may come into contact with a potential victim of modern slavery, so it is essential that staff are aware of the various support pathways that exist for victims and how to report concerns. Oxford City Council and Thames Valley Police have set up Hotel Watch, which trains hoteliers in how to spot the signs of exploitation and what action to take. Taxi drivers are all provided with safeguarding training to help them identify people who are vulnerable and take appropriate action.

Councillor Louise Upton, Cabinet Member for a Safer, Healthier Oxford, said:

“It may come as a surprise to people, but many of the victims of modern slavery and exploitation in Oxford, and across the UK, are British nationals. 

“These are complex and brutal crimes that completely take away a person’s sense of self and leave them with lifelong trauma. The chains put on people are often psychological rather than physical and that can make it hard for other people to understand why an enslaved person doesn’t just leave.

“Oxford City Council is committed to tackling modern slavery in the city by raising awareness of the issue and helping people to spot the signs. It’s very likely people have come in to contact with victims but have not recognised them as being enslaved. We need that to change. We need everyone to recognise it when they see it, and report it.”

Tom Hayes, Chief Executive of Elmore Community Services, and the co-chair of the Oxfordshire Anti-Slavery Network, said:

“Slavery isn’t something that happens in some faraway country, it’s happening right here. Slavery doesn't belong to some distant past, it’s happening right now. As this ground-breaking new research by Elmore Community Services shows, slavery may be happening in far greater numbers than we thought. Indeed, previous figures may just have been the tip of the iceberg. Modern slavery has many faces, and they can all be seen in this report commissioned by Oxford City Council.

“As a co-chair of the Oxfordshire Anti-Slavery Network, Elmore is passionate about playing our role in the multi-agency response, building on our years of innovating and delivering an Independent Trauma Advisory Service to support survivors of exploitation and modern slavery across Oxfordshire. Together, we can implement the recommendations of this report and spot the signs of modern slavery, stop it, and drive it from Oxford.”

Dame Sara Thornton, the UK's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:

"Accurately assessing the prevalence of modern slavery is extremely challenging and has been the subject of much debate with estimates ranging from 10,000 to 136,000 victims in the UK. While there have been significant increases in the number of potential victims of modern slavery identified in recent years, I am keenly aware of the extent to which these crimes can remain hidden. I therefore welcome this work by Elmore Community Services which has sought to better understand the scale of modern slavery in Oxford City in all its forms. 

“I am pleased to see the commitment to developing an action plan to help take forward the recommendations made by the report. Local partnerships involving a wide range of players are well placed to ensure a co-ordinated approach to tackling this devastating crime and I encourage the various partnership structures that exist in Oxfordshire, supported by the recently appointed Anti-Slavery Co-ordinator for Oxfordshire, to continue to build on their work to date to tackle the ever-changing nature of exploitation.”

An Action Plan will be now be implemented to ensure the report’s recommendations are brought into effect.

The Oxfordshire Anti-Slavery Network, in partnership with Oxford City Council, is hosting a Modern Slavery Summit on 18 February at Oxford Town Hall to discuss the context of modern slavery in Oxfordshire.

Read the report, Researching the extent and nature of modern slavery in Oxford.