Article 4: No slavery or forced labour

We must never be treated like slaves or made to work against our will – and authorities must always fully investigate suspected slavery.

Article 4 of the Human Rights Act protects us from being held in slavery or servitude. This ban is absolute and can never be justified.

Although the slave trade was abolished centuries ago, modern day slavery persists in the UK.

Many workers – often migrants – are forced to perform compulsory work for little or no wages, in conditions where they are effectively prevented from escaping.

A person is subjected to forced labour if they do not voluntarily consent to perform work, but do so because of they are threatened, either physically or psychologically.

But forced or compulsory labour does not include lawful work required of prisoners or the military, work required during an emergency or other work or service that is part of our normal civil obligations (such as jury service).

Protections against slavery in the UK

The State must make sure laws are in place to protect people from slavery, servitude and forced labour.

This includes having anti-trafficking legislation and making it an offence to subject someone to these practices.

Authorities must also protect people from ill-treatment and from real and immediate risks which they know – or ought to know – about.

Article 4 also requires them to properly investigate any allegations of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour.

In cross-border trafficking cases, the UK government must cooperate effectively with the relevant authorities of other states.

Patience’s story

Patience Asuquo was brought to the UK as a domestic worker and nanny.

For two-and-a-half years her ‘employer’ physically and mentally abused her. She was never paid for her work and her passport was withheld from her.

Patience eventually managed to escape – only to be confronted with an unresponsive police force, refusing to take her allegations seriously.

Using Article 4 of the Human Rights Act, Liberty forced officers to investigate and Patience’s ‘employer’ was eventually prosecuted – although not for slavery or forced servitude, as they weren’t offences under English law at the time.

A new slavery offence was introduced in 2009 thanks partly to our campaigning.

And, thankfully, a lot more has changed since then – with the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, which has helped many more survivors of slavery to seek justice.

Find out more about the case.