Article 4: Prohibition from Slavery and Forced Labour

What does Article 4 say?

(1) No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
(2) No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Are there any qualifications, limitations or an ability to derogate?

Not from Article 4(1). Derogations are possible from Article 4(2) and there are also exemptions in 4(3), namely:

(a) any work required to be done in the ordinary course of detention imposed according to the provisions of Article 5 … or during conditional release from such detention;
(b) any service of a military character or, in case of conscientious objectors in countries where they are recognised, service exacted instead of compulsory military service;
(c) any service exacted in case of an emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community;
(d) any work or service which forms part of normal civil obligations.

How has slavery been defined?

Anti-Slavery International says:((

Common characteristics distinguish slavery from other human rights violations. A slave is:
– forced to work – through mental or physical threat;
– owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse;
– dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’;
– physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings defines it as:((Article 4 (a)

… the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs …

How long has it been since there was overt slavery in the UK?

About 250 years. The famous case of Somersett v Stewart decided that, in the words of Lord Mansfield, slavery is ‘so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it’ and to whom is attributed the ringing quotation that ‘the air of England is too pure for any slave to breathe’.((Somerset v Stewart (1772) Lofft. 1, 98 ER 499.)) British engagement in the slave trade was abolished by the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.

What about covert slavery?

Regrettably, it is rife. The UK is at the centre of a thriving market in human trafficking. Women are trafficked for sex. Children and men for cheap labour. Human trafficking was specifically criminalised by section 4 Asylum and Immigration Act 2004 which specifically refers to Article 4. Overwhelmingly, it is women who are estimated to be the victims of trafficking:

Women are involved in 77% of trafficking cases worldwide, with sexual exploitation a factor in 87%. Forced labour is also a motive behind trafficking. The UK is a major destination for trafficked women. Police believe that about 4,000 have been brought in to the country and forced to work as prostitutes.((
What is the UK government doing about human trafficking?

It has published an anti-trafficking action plan.(( ))It has set up a UK Human Trafficking Centre to act as a liaison point for government agencies.(( It has signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings.(( There are occasional police raids, the largest of which has been Operation Ruby in Leicestershire against forced agricultural workers. ((

What is the difference between slavery and servitude as against forced or compulsory labour?

Slavery and servitude relate primarily to someone’s status as an individual rather than requirements on them to work.

Can prisoners be forced to undertake work?

Yes. It is covered by one of the exceptions in Article 4(3). The Prison Rules authorise work to be of up to 10 hours a day.((Rule 31, Prison Rules 1999.))

Has the UK ever been found to be in breach of Article 4 by the European Court of Human Rights?

No. There have been a number of failed attempts. For example, the Court declined to find against the UK in a case involving ‘boy soldiers’ aged 15 and 16 whose parents had consented to their enlistment for nine year contracts.((W,X, Y and Z v United Kingdom (1968) 11 YB 562 EComm HR.))