Article 4 No slavery or forced labour

Although the slave trade was abolished centuries ago, modern day slavery persists with many workers, often migrants, forced into performing compulsory work for little or no wages in conditions where they are effectively prevented from escaping.

The prohibition on holding a person in slavery or servitude is absolute and can never be justified.

The prohibition on requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour does not include lawful work required of prisoners or military service, work required during an emergency or other work or service that forms part of normal civil obligations (for example, jury service).

A person is subjected to forced labour when the person does not voluntarily consent to perform work but does so because of threats made, either physical or psychological.

The State is under an obligation to ensure laws are in place to protect people from slavery, servitude and forced labour, including by having anti-trafficking legislation and making it an offence to subject someone to such practices.

State authorities are also obliged to protect victims or potential victims of Article 4 ill-treatment from real and immediate risks which are known, or ought to be known, by the authorities. There is also an obligation to investigate any allegations of slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour.

The UK is also under a duty in cross-border trafficking cases to cooperate effectively with the relevant authorities of other states concerned in the investigation of events which occurred outside their territories.


Case study - Patience Asuquo

Patience was brought to the UK as a domestic worker and nanny. For two-and-a-half years she was abused physically and mentally. She was never paid and her employer withheld her passport. Patience eventually managed to escape – only to be confronted with an uninterested police force, refusing to take her allegations seriously.

Using Article 4 of the Human Rights Act, no slavery or forced labour, Liberty forced officers to investigate and Patience’s employer was eventually prosecuted – although not for slavery or forced servitude, as they still weren’t offences under English law. Thankfully that’s now changed, and there’s a new slavery offence on the statute book thanks partly to our campaigning.

Watch: Simon Callow tells Patience's story



Find out more about the case.