The right to effective access to justice for victims of human trafficking is established in international law, and plays a crucial role in the recovery of survivors, providing a sense of justice, closure, and the financial means to rebuild lives and avoid re-trafficking. However, FLEX research has shown that victims of human trafficking for labour exploitation still face significant barriers to remedy and redress in the UK. FLEX believes that building a world-class national response to modern slavery means thinking globally about law and policy solutions to the problems victims currently face in accessing justice for the crimes committed against them.
Evidence submitted by FLEX to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery highlights best practice examples from around the world, showing how different countries have sought to ensure that victims of contemporary forms of slavery are compensated, and that perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice. For example, in the United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act provides for mandatory restitution for victims of human trafficking, forced labour and slavery, and makes clear that the restitution to be paid by the offender is to be for the “full amount of the victim’s losses,” ensuring that victims of labour exploitation are paid the wages that they are owed.
In Belgium, head contractors can be held responsible for the underpayment or non-payment of wages to workers by a subcontractor in their supply chain, under a system of joint and several liability for the payment of workers’ wages. Belgium is also one of the few jurisdictions where companies have been successfully prosecuted for their involvement in human trafficking for labour exploitation.
FLEX advocates for a comprehensive human-rights based approach to ensure that victims of contemporary forms of slavery can have access to justice, and fulfil their right to an effective remedy, including:
- Early and free access to legal advice and assistance: expert legal advice and assistance should be provided free of charge and at the earliest possible opportunity.
- Non-conditionality: victims’ access to compensation should not be dependent upon either their cooperation with police, or on the successful prosecution of their exploiters.
- Appropriate and long-term support: holistic, high quality support should include providing information and assistance to victims to access their full range of legal rights, and ensure that victims voices are central to legal processes.
- Clear and effective remedies: avenues to compensation should not be costly, complex or restrictive.
- Prioritisation of victims’ rights and remedies: victims should be able to pursue legal remedies, and should be protected and supported in doing so, regardless of their immigration status.
FLEX’s Labour Exploitation Accountability Hub includes a database of national laws and regulations to address human trafficking and forced labour in supply chains in 15 countries worldwide.
FLEX’s illustrated guide to the legal rights and options of victims of human trafficking in the UK can be downloaded in 12 languages here.