Britain's intelligence agencies have been given a new task — tackling the modern slave trade — in addition to pursuing terrorists and drug traffickers.

Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking at a meeting around the UN General Assembly summit in New York on 19 September, announced that both MI6 and GCHQ will be given additional resources to break up networks in countries involved in the slave trade.

The new anti-slavery taskforce will work with police to free those trafficked into the UK for the purpose of exploitation in brothels, nail bars, carwashes and elsewhere.

In addition to the heads of the MI5, the MI6 and GCHQ, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, the head of Europol, the secretary general of Interpol, the head of the Gang-masters Licensing Authority and several other senior police officers from across the UK will be involved in the taskforce.

Professionals dealing with slavery, including Caroline Haughey, a barrister with a track record of successfully prosecuting people over slavery, will also be participating in the task force.

UK to lead the way in fighting modern slavery

May said that across the world, an estimated 45 million people are "enduring experiences that are simply horrifying in their inhumanity. We owe it to the innocent men, women and children who are being tricked into a life of hard labour and abuse to rid our world of this evil."

She continued: "Just as it was Britain that took an historic stand to ban slavery two centuries ago, I am determined that the UK will once again lead the way in defeating modern slavery and preserving the freedoms and values that have defined our country for generations."

She also said that there was no excuse for countries to not share intelligence and conduct joint operations as they did for drugs and firearms.

A UK Government statement said that both MI5 and MI6 focus on security but also have a remit to tackle organised crime. The agencies will be asked to pass on intelligence on groups involved in slavery in both Britain and overseas.

The Walk Free Foundation's Global Slavery Index 2016 estimates there are 45.8 million victims of slavery globally and the Home Office estimate that there were 10,000 to 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2013.

Theresa May slavery
UK Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at a meeting to deal with large movements of refugees and migrants at the UN General Assembly in New York. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson