The Big Issue is getting tough on modern slavery

Vendors are vulnerable to being targeted by slavers so we’re introducing new internal policy and training to keep our sellers safe

Big Issue vendors remain vulnerable to being targeted by slavers, so we have beefed up how we are tackling modern slavery.

In a move designed to tie in with International Anti-Slavery Day, which took place earlier this month, The Big Issue has introduced a new e-training module for staff as well as a new Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking policy.

The Big Issue’s head of programmes and partnerships Beth Thomas explains more.

“At The Big Issue we recognise that we work with some of the most vulnerable members of society who are at risk of falling victim to crime,” she said. “It is no secret that human traffickers prey on people who are vulnerable and exploit their circumstances to win over their trust. With this in mind we have introduced a modern slavery policy and procedure aimed at helping all staff to be able to spot the signs of modern slavery.

“We believe that it is not only up to those who work on the front line but it is all of us to be aware of how to spot the signs as we go about our day to day lives. From taking our cars to be cleaned to having a manicure, everyone needs to be vigilant and know what do to do if they suspect modern slavery. To help staff with this we have incorporated a new training module into all staff and volunteer inductions.”

From taking our cars to be cleaned to having a manicure, everyone needs to be vigilant and know what do to do if they suspect modern slavery

This is in addition to the training programmes that we have developed with charity Transforming Communities Together to educate vendors in the West Midlands on the signs of modern slavery and how to protect themselves and other people on the streets from falling into it.

To get an idea of just how vulnerable rough sleepers are to modern slavery, London-based charity Hestia released new figures earlier this month that sum it up well.

Their ‘Underground Lives: Homelessness & Modern Slavery in London’ report revealed that one in 10 of the 9,000 people sleeping rough in the London over the last year have been exploited in modern slavery.

Hestia’s report also consulted survivors of modern slavery and found that victims do not approach local authorities for help and housing support out of fear and a lack of information. As a result, despite their role as a first responder with statutory duty to refer possible victims to the National Referral Mechanism – the initiative designed to offer a pathway out of slavery – local authorities only referred 105 people in 2018.


In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

An unsuitable pathway out leads to the danger of falling back into exploitation, insists Hestia CEO Patrick Ryan.

“Although help is available many victims still struggle,” he said. “If that leaves them sleeping rough, it takes a huge toll on people who have already suffered unimaginable trauma at the hands of their exploiters. On the streets they’re at real risk of falling back into exploitation.”

With rough sleepers even being targeted at soup kitchens and shelters, The Clewer Initiative have launched their own Let’s Talk campaign to encourage frontline staff to look for the telltale signs to report to the Modern Slavery Helpline or other local support services.

Signs include working for little or no pay and not being allowed to leave a workplace as well as being approached on the street or outside a shelter by someone offering work.

The Rt Revd Dr Alastair Redfern, chair of The Clewer Initiative, said: “Time and time again in our work around the country we meet volunteers and project leaders who have encountered modern slavery and have either not recognised it, or not known what to do about it.

“With rising numbers of homeless people on our streets, it is even more important that we are able to recognise the signs. With the Let’s Talk resources we will equip the church to understand what modern slavery looks like, and how they can respond to protect the vulnerable.”

However, the Modern Slavery Helpline is currently under threat and facing closure on November 30 if it cannot raise £800,000.

In the three years that it has been up and running, the helpline has been used to highlight 15,000 potential victims. Without it, there will be less opportunity to flag up and tackle modern slavery, closing down a vital pathway out of exploitation.

According to figures from the charity who run the helpline Unseen, homeless people have been involved in 276 cases of modern slavery, comprising seven per cent of all the cases they have reported.

For more information on how to donate to save the helpline, head here.

Image: The Clewer Initiative