Agricultural workers in a green field

An Assessment of the Value of Cultural Competency

in UK Responses to Modern Slavery for Those Facing Identity-based Oppression

Project summary

The Challenge

Systematic oppression affects various groups and makes them vulnerable to exploitation, rendering response to modern slavery ineffective.

The Approach

We spoke directly to relevant statutory and non-statutory organisations, as well as adult survivors of modern slavery across four regions in England.

The Outcome

Our research shows the value of cultural competency in preventing modern slavery risks.

Lead academics

Funded by

Project partners

The Challenge

Modern slavery and labour exploitation are ongoing issues within the UK. The nature of these offences mean that the scale of the issue is hard to estimate but in 2022, 16,938 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK were referred to the Home Office.

The systemic oppression of individuals belonging to various sociodemographic groups, such as those of a particular race, class, or sexuality, leads to an increase in their vulnerability to exploitation and makes modern slavery responses ineffective.

To date, there has not been enough targeted research on interventions relating to the different vulnerabilities and structural factors underpinning modern slavery. Specifically, there has been no previous research to determine the cultural understanding or 'competency' of modern slavery responses in the UK, and how effective they are in mitigating risks. 

The full research team

The Approach

This project seeks to generate an assessment of the value of cultural competency and practices in improving equity and effectiveness in legal enforcement, support services and identification of those affected by modern slavery.

Our research aimed to provide reliable data on the link between systematic oppression and the risks of modern slavery in the UK. We also examined the importance of cultural competency in preventing such risks and safeguarding those who are vulnerable to them.

An overview of the project methodology

The project focused on individuals facing identity-based oppression to analyse how cultural competency can address modern slavery and re-exploitation risks. The team identified the following research questions:

  1. To what extent can engagement and delivery of services to individuals be improved based on their cultural background and identity?
  2. What are the cultural and identity barriers for people with lived experience of modern slavery to engage with the necessary professionals and organisations? How can these be managed/mitigated?

The research team conducted four case studies in different geographical areas: West Midlands, Humberside, North Wales, Northeast Coast. For each case study, we collected data through semi-structured interviews and/or focus groups with relevant statutory and non-statutory organisations. Our research also drew on both an online focus group and four online semi-structured interviews with adult survivors of modern slavery to include their voices and expertise.

In the West Midlands, we conducted nine interviews; in the Northeast Coastal area we interviewed five people; while in Humberside and North Wales, we conducted eleven interviews each. Additionally, we held two face-to-face focus groups in Hull and two online focus groups in North Wales. We also conducted four interviews and a focus group with survivors. Interviews and focus groups were semi-structured, wherein short lists of questions related to the issue were designed to guide them.

The Impact

The team are finalising a thorough report, which will provide statutory, non-statutory, and third-sector service providers with reliable data on the link between systematic oppression and modern slavery risks in different areas within the UK and the value of embedded cultural competency in policies to prevent such risks and safeguard those vulnerable.

The team are planning a workshop to disseminate and discuss the findings of the research to practitioners, which will be held in Birmingham in 2024