Modern slavery in rural areas

Modern slavery is not just an urban problem. The same types of slavery found in towns and cities are present in the countryside as well. However, modern slavery in rural areas does have some distinctive features.

In towns and cities, it can be hidden amongst the hustle and bustle, but in rural areas modern slavery is often hidden away from the beaten track in remote locations.

Since 2004 when 23 young Chinese men, who had been smuggled into the UK, were drowned off Morecambe Bay while picking cockles for a criminal gang, there has been a growing understanding of the issue of modern slavery in rural areas.

Rural areas are affected by several different types of modern slavery, just like towns and cities. In fact, rural areas may offer some attractive prospects to potential criminal exploiters, including:

  • The presence of seasonal industries with high demand for short term, seasonal labour
  • Remote locations where criminal operations can be hidden away from the public eye
  • The challenge that monitoring large, sparsely populated areas poses to the authorities.

Labour exploitation

Some sectors are predominantly rural in their operations, with companies having high need for low-skilled, relatively low-paid and often temporary labour. These sectors include agriculture, horticulture, food packing and processing, fisheries, construction, and hospitality. These sectors often have major seasonal peaks in demand, with a limited supply of workers. The work can be gruelling with long hours and little job security, resulting in workers and employers being vulnerable to criminal exploiters who are adept at hiding signs of exploitation and modern slavery.

Well-established and reputable businesses can be infiltrated by modern slavery without their knowledge or consent - that's why it is vital that there is better awareness and understanding of how and where modern slavery can happen.

As well as sectors where victims of modern slavery can be hidden amongst a large workforce, forced labour and labour exploitation also happen in smaller businesses such as hand car washes and nail bars. In these cases often the business owner or manager is involved in the exploitation.

County Lines and Cuckooing

County lines involves organised criminal gangs operating in large towns and cities. The gangs coerce vulnerable children and young people to act as mules to run drugs out into rural areas. To aid their expansion into rural areas, gangs also use a practice known as 'cuckooing', where they take over the houses of vulnerable people, and use them as a base for their local activities.

Sexual exploitation

Urban areas are not the sole preserve of sexual exploitation - there may be a misconception that sexual exploitation is only present in areas known for a predominance of sex workers. However, victims of sexual exploitation are found in remote rural areas too. A particular feature of sexual exploitation in rural areas is 'pop-up brothels', where victims are trafficked to temporary brothels which take over holiday lets in rural areas, often during the off-season. Lots of men coming in and out of the property at odd hours is often a tell-tale sign.

Modern Slavery Helpline

Get help, report a suspicion or seek advice.

08000 121 700

tools and resources for rural communities

Awareness, education and vigilance are vital to tackling modern slavery and identifying victims in rural as well as urban areas. Take a look at some of the tools and resources that specifically address the distinctive features of modern slavery in rural areas.

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