LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The number of people locked in slavery in Britain rose by 22 percent last year, with online dating, social media sites and Internet job advertisements used increasingly to recruit victims, a new report showed on Tuesday.
Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) identified 2,744 people, including 602 children, as potential victims of human trafficking in 2013 with more than 40 percent ending up in the sex trade and almost 30 percent forced into manual labor.
The third annual human trafficking report listed Romania as the most prevalent country of origin for victims for the third consecutive year, with more than half exploited for sex, and Poland as the most common country for labor trafficking.
Although the number of victims of slavery in Britain is hard to pin down, studies have shown there has been an increase in human trafficking in recent years, prompting the government to prepare a bill to more effectively tackle slavery offences.
Karen Bradley, who was appointed modern slavery and organized crime minister earlier this year, described modern slavery as an appalling crime that has "no place in today's society".
"Yet these figures show it is taking place here - often out of sight - in shops, fields, building sites and behind the curtains of ordinary streets," Bradley said in a statement as the NCA report was released.
Almost 30 million people are enslaved worldwide, trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labor, victims of debt bondage or born into servitude, according to rights group Walk Free Foundation that produces the Global Slavery Index.
It estimated that between 4,200 and 4,600 are enslaved in the United Kingdom.
The NCA report found 41 percent of victims identified in Britain last year were trafficked for sexual exploitation, up from 35 percent a year earlier, while the number of those forced into manual labor rose to 27 percent from 22 percent in 2012.
The number of victims from Albania, Slovakia and Lithuania increased significantly last year, the NCA said, while the number trafficked from Vietnam and Hungary also rose slightly.
Another shift was also the number of victims from Thailand which jumped to 89 from nine a year earlier, making it one of the 10 countries with the largest numbers trafficked to Britain.
Liam Vernon, head of the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, said the NCA was working closely with a range of partners to tackle "this disturbing crime".
"The National Crime Agency is committed to continually disrupting what is a vicious and criminal trade in human misery, which exploits the most vulnerable people, both here and abroad, for financial gain," Vernon said in a statement.
The NCA, Britain's equivalent of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, came into operation last October with the aim of better coordinating police action on issues such as child sex abuse and organized crime.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith