Two young children working on a building site

Modern slavery

As a community of researchers and practitioners, we are committed to disciplinary excellence and to interdisciplinary research and knowledge exchange that will benefit society on a national and international level.

Members of the Wilberforce Institute have pioneered research on typologies of modern slavery, child labour, migration and human trafficking.  

The Institute is a member of the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC), established in 2020 with £10 million in government funding, and our researchers are leading one of the PEC’s priority research strands, looking into the legal enforcement of modern slavery.

We are also working on a PEC AHRC-funded project, led by the Bakhita Centre at St Mary’s University, which seeks to shed light on support services for victims of modern slavery who are British nationals.

We also provide risk assessments, training and guidance for businesses and practitioners, helping to root out modern day slavery and facilitate the enforcement of modern slavery legislation.


The Institute’s PhD clusters are analysing the problems experienced by those living in the shadow of modern slavery, and exploring case studies of children who were exploited following their migration across borders. The Institute also played a leading role in the development of the Global Slavery Index, which established important benchmarks for the quantification of contemporary slavery.

Working with researchers from the UK and globally, we have led efforts to create community-led projects in the Global South, aimed at building resilience in vulnerable communities in Ghana, Sierra Leone, India, Montserrat, Vietnam, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly among young people.

Our researchers work with victims of modern slavery around the world. Members of the Institute also advise agencies and practitioners on issues relating to forced labour, trafficking and asylum. The Institute took a leading role in shaping the Modern Slavery Act (2015) and continues to inform debates around the Act, including the National Referral Mechanism and business compliance (Section 54).

We have also established a Justice Hub, made up of scholars, practitioners and policymakers, with the purpose of educating stakeholders to better use and enforce the Modern Slavery Act through off-the-peg online training and bespoke consultation.

In 2015 the Institute was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its impact on society regarding the quantification of slavery and anti-slavery opinion building. This award acknowledged the prominent role the Institute played in shaping the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The Institute’s contribution to the development of the Global Slavery Index and Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE) tool led to a radical reassessment by the UK Government of the number of people enslaved in the UK. The Institute’s interactive anti-slavery opinion-building tools have driven modern slavery prevention campaigns in schools across the UK, and in West Africa.

The Humber Modern Slavery Partnership

The Humber Modern Slavery Partnership is a network of over 60 organisations across the Humber region, dedicated to combating and preventing modern slavery in all its forms.

Coordinated by Andrew Smith and chaired by Dr Alicia Heys, both based at the Wilberforce Institute, the partnership is an integral part of our work in community engagement and raising standards across our own area.

As part of this work, we engage strongly with the wider national Anti-Slavery sector by sharing best practice, research findings, and the experiences of professionals and those with lived experience of slavery and trafficking.

We will continue to lead the activities and outputs of this partnership, so that the Wilberforce Institute and the Humber Modern Slavery Partnership become more closely integrated.