Ethical Consumer Choice

You may think... "does this even happen here?"

Yes, modern slavery does happen in the UK today, it does not only affect other countries. Victims from different backgrounds are trapped here with no way out. Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain and includes labour exploitation, also known as forced labour. Many labour exploitation victims are British nationals. Unlike other types of modern slavery, labour exploitation could be taking place in clear sight and we could be interacting with victims on a daily basis without realising.

We live in a fast paced environment. As consumers, we prioritise our convenience and want to save time and money, but have you ever wondered at what cost?

Our demand for services drives supply and the profits for businesses. Criminals have grabbed this opportunity with both hands, disguising illegal labour practices and the exploitation of workers within public facing businesses. Frequently, these are the services we use daily, such as hand car washes, nail bars, takeaways, restaurants and doorstep services such as home builders, driveway, paving installers, cleaners or gardeners.

Victims are seen as little more than a money making opportunity, not human beings. They work long hours, often in dangerous or difficult conditions. By not paying victims the National Minimum Wage or any money at all, criminals are able to make large profits, sometimes provide cheaper prices and undercut legal businesses.


Learn about sectors most at risk of labour exploitation click below

Nail bar

Manicures were once seen as a luxurious treat. Nowadays, you can find a nail bar on almost every high street, many offering budget pricing and accessible to everyone. Consider what has made the price of this treat so affordable, but more importantly, who is paying the real cost?

Read more

Door step services

Few of us aren’t familiar with a knock at the front door to find a doorstep seller offering us gardening, driveway and paving installation, cleaning, home building work and many other services. In our busy lives, convenience is often a big lure for us to buy services on the spur of the moment. These sellers can solve our home maintenance problems without having to spend hours searching online and often at very competitive prices. Many doorstep sellers are lawful tradespeople, but this work also offers the perfect hiding place for forced labour. Have you ever considered using them?

Read more

Hand Car Washes

Do you remember the days of washing your own car? Nowadays hand car washes exist in every town, springing up on petrol stations, disused forecourts, industrial sites and even on car parks. Operating 7 days a week until late into the evening, these sites offer us real convenience, removing a dirty time consuming task from our lives and often at extremely competitive prices. Have you ever wondered how they keep their prices so low?

Read more


While you may not have used any of the services covered above, very few of us have never bought a meal out or picked up a takeaway for a cosy night at home. While waiting for our food it’s easy to get lost in conversation or our mobile phone’s. What would you see or hear in your favourite takeout if you took a moment out?

Read more


So why don’t victims just leave?

Many victims are economically vulnerable to recruitment into exploitation, perhaps through a lack of opportunities for education or work. Other victims have more complex and extreme vulnerabilities, such as addiction, unstable home lives, poverty, mental health conditions, homelessness or those escaping conflict or economic and political instability in their home countries. Some victims may also have an insecure immigration status, leading to a fear that they will be reported to the authorities, exploiters will often lead them into believing that there is no alternative.

Victims are often befriended, then coerced or deceived into taking up employment before they recognise the exploitation. Exploiters may use threats, intimidation and physical violence to control their victims and remove their identity documents and freedom. Victims will be isolated from the community and unable to contact friends or family. Victims are regularly forced or tricked into false debt, incurring debt for services such as recruitment fees, food, transport and accommodation which unfairly increase over time, leading to a situation called debt bondage. Victims get trapped in a cycle of debt they cannot escape. Those with insecure immigration status may not know where they are, speak the local language, understand how to access help and may not trust officials such as the police.

Does cheap mean exploitation?

The offer of services at low prices can be a sign of labour exploitation, which criminals use to lure customers in and undercut competitors. However, many lawful, legitimate businesses will offer budget pricing, discounts and sales, so it is important that you don’t just rely upon pricing and look for other indicators too.

Exploiters may use threats, intimidation and physical violence to control their victims and remove their identity documents and freedom.

What can I do to help?

It begins with recognising that the money you spend might be funding businesses that are benefiting from exploitation. As a consumer, you have the power to make a significant impact on the business models of these criminals and stop them from profiting from the misery of others. By recognising the signs of exploitation, making informed decisions about where to spend your money and choosing not to buy services from those businesses which raise concern, these exploitative businesses will become less profitable and therefore less appealing to criminals.

Victims of forced labour may rarely be visible beyond the confines of their workplace – you could be their one opportunity to escape their situation. You may feel it is ‘just a feeling,’ or that you don’t know enough about the situation, but by passing on your concerns, however small, your information could significantly help to build a picture which will enable action to be taken. Reporting any concerns to the police ( 999 or 101) or anonymously to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or via the online reporting form below, could give a victim of labour exploitation their freedom.

Read on to learn more about how you can make a difference by not buying into modern slavery.

Victims of forced labour may rarely be visible beyond the confines of their workplace – you could be their one opportunity to escape their situation.

How can I recognise the signs of labour exploitation?

The following are common signs of labour exploitation which can help you recognise victims or risky business practices:


  • Are not able to leave the work premises alone, may appear to be under the control of others or excessively supervised.
  • Have limited interactions with colleagues and customers, may be withdrawn, avoid eye contact and conversation or display signs of anxiety or fear.
  • May appear tired, dishevelled, neglected or malnourished due to lack of rest or suitable food.
  • Lack the right personal protective equipment for the job
  • Lack training or skills in their job, which may expose them to the risk of harm
  • Wear inadequate clothing for the weather or nature of the job
  • May show signs of physical injury, psychological abuse or untreated medical conditions
  • Are non-English speakers and/or another person speaks on their behalf, such as the manager.
  • If you’ve met the worker before you may notice they always wear the same clothes or their personal hygiene is not good

Business practices

  • Employees work unusually long hours without breaks, or are provided little or no time off work.
  • Services are offered at much cheaper prices than competitors
  • Businesses are often cash based and payment is made to someone else instead of the worker, such as an overseeing manager. The worker may appear fearful of taking payment for the services.
  • Workers may sleep at the business premises, mattresses may be observed in the back of the premises or in storage areas/out-buildings
  • Workers may appear younger than you would expect
  • Workers are not allowed to, or are fearful of taking tips or hand tips to a third party
  • The business may operate unusually lengthy operating hours, including weekends and bank holidays.

Make the right choices

Now you are equipped with the knowledge to understand and spot signs of exploitation. You can use this information to make well informed decisions on your daily purchases.

Be observant when using these services and trust your instincts; if something doesn’t feel right then it most likely isn’t.

None of us want to think our hard earned money is funding criminals to exploit other people, but this is the sad reality. We all have the power to drive exploiters out of these sectors, by not providing the demand for their business; all it takes is for us to choose not to spend our money with them.

It can be challenging to know how to react and respond if you observe signs that concern you. So what can you do?

  • You do not need to confront the manager or raise your concerns at the premises, it is often unwise to do so and could cause the exploiter to move any victims on to other premises, making them harder to locate and expose them to further risk.
  • If your concerns arise before you have started receiving the service you could cancel the appointment or order, or leave the premises. Remember this is your money, you do not need to explain how you choose to spend it.
  • If you identify concerns during your engagement with the service, it is best to pay for the service on that occasion, but consider not returning.
  • Flag your concerns to the Modern Slavery Helpline or a local police force to help safeguard any potential victims.
  • Share your concerns with friends and family, encouraging them to avoid those businesses too.

Further information on reporting can be found below.
Importantly, remember the victims. After you leave, they remain trapped in their situation – you can help them by reporting your concerns, which you can do anonymously if you wish.

Who can I report my concerns to?

If you suspect labour exploitation, you need to report it. If you observe a life threatening situation, you should always call the police on 999. However, if you are unsure about your concerns or want further advice and support, you can report to the police via 101 or call the modern slavery helpline, anonymously, on 08000 121 700. You can also report your suspicions via the online reporting form below.

UNSEEN Reporting APP

If you are a regular user of these services, you can download the ‘Unseen’ app on your mobile phone which provides information on the signs of exploitation and access to online reporting or to the Modern Slavery Helpline. The app is available on both iOS and Android.


Download app for iOS
Download app for Android