The UK’s approach to tackling modern slavery through the aid programme

The UK’s work to tackle modern slavery in developing countries has had limited long-term impact, did not build on existing international efforts and experience, and failed to adequately involve survivors – though the government played a prominent role in raising the profile of the issue globally.

Score: Amber/Red
  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 14 October 2020
  3. Type: Full review
  4. Subject: Cross-government aid spend, Democracy, governance and human rights
  5. Assessment: Amber/Red
  6. Location: Bangladesh, Nigeria
  7. Lead commissioner: Sir Hugh Bayley
  8. SDGs covered:No poverty, Reduced inequalities, Climate action, Peace, justice and strong institutions, Gender equality, Decent work and economic growth

Latest news

We published our review on the UK’s approach to tackling modern slavery through the aid programme and made five recommendations. We’ve followed up on the government’s progress towards implementing our recommendations twice, and we will return again for a third time in 2024. Find out more in the ‘Further scrutiny‘ tab.


Modern slavery is a global problem that leads to appalling human rights violations and suffering. It encompasses a range of related but distinct problems, including bonded and forced labour, human trafficking (including for sexual exploitation) and some of the worst forms of child labour. It is a vast and global problem, whose hidden nature makes it very difficult to measure.

Ending modern slavery, both at home and internationally, has become a significant priority for the UK government, who committed in 2018 to spend £200 million in UK aid on promoting global action. This is a “new and complex” challenge for UK aid. The government has conducted a sustained international campaign to raise awareness, including persuading many governments to sign an international Call to Action. The Home Office and the former Department for International Development (DFID) and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have all been involved in delivering international programmes to combat modern slavery.

This review assesses how well the UK government has done in learning ‘what works’ and developing a credible portfolio of programmes to tackle this complex global challenge. It covers the period since November 2014, when the UK’s modern slavery strategy was adopted, and includes in-depth consideration of a sample of programmes, the UK’s work in two countries (Bangladesh and Nigeria) and the UK’s influencing efforts with international partners and with the private sector.

Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals relevant to this review are:

  • Sustainable Development Goal 1: No poverty
  • Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduced inequalities
  • Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate action
  • Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
  • Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender equality
  • Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth



Published 26 Feb 2020

Evidence gathering


Review publication

Published 14 Oct 2020

Government response

Published 24 Nov 2020

Parliamentary scrutiny

IDC hearing 14 April 2021

ICAI follow-up

Published 30 June 2022

Further follow-up

Published 18 July 2023

Third follow-up

Expected summer 2024