Sheffield Migration Research Group seminar

13 May 2021

"Long-term support is crucial for any survivor's recovery, without it you may as well not have been rescued at all."Unhidden in Plain Sight

In this seminar we present findings from an ESRC funded research project that examined the role of faith actors in the UK in addressing modern slavery and human trafficking at three levels: within third sector activity to support trafficked people and to contribute towards anti-trafficking advocacy; within the discourses around anti-trafficking and modern slavery within the UK parliament, that eventually led to the passing of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act; and with respect to the experience of trafficked people.

The first part of the seminar will introduce the project and its methodology, and will then focus on the third sector contribution. A mapping of this sector found that roughly 30% of actors working in this domain are faith based organisations (FBOs), higher than expected, and all but one of these were Christian. We were interested in the extent to which the faith contribution offered any distinctive aspects compared to action by non-faith actors, how this aligned with theories of the postsecular in the sociology of religion and why Christian actors appear to be particularly attracted to anti-trafficking activity.

In the second part of the seminar, we present an analysis of Hansard transcripts to explore the influence of FBOs and faith actors on the development of anti-modern slavery policy in parliament. We found faith actor presence in parliamentary processes related to modern slavery to be broadly proportionate with FBO presence in the sector (30%) and that some prominent faith actors and FBOs ‘punch above their weight’ in the realm of political lobbying and influencing.

Finally, we explore the experiences of trafficked people being supported after exiting exploitation. We interviewed 14 people (11 women and 3 men) who left an exploitative situation and received support from anti-modern slavery organisations. The interviews aimed to discuss the support delivered by statutory and third sector providers and the role of faith identity and worship. While religion was an integral part of the identity of 10 participants, who frequently cited faith as playing a powerful role in surviving and recovering from experiences of exploitation, there is also a need for faith actors to be sensitive the role that faith might play in situations of exploitation and to only offer faith-based interventions if requested by survivors and on their terms.


Rebecca Murray, Research Associate, University of Sheffield

Emma Tomalin, Professor of Religion and Public Life, University of Leeds

Louise Waite, Professor of Human Geography, University of Leeds

Hannah Lewis, Senior Lecturer Sociology, University of Sheffield


Clare Rishbeth, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield