The home secretary John Reid has signed the European Convention on Human Trafficking, committing the UK government to addressing human trafficking.
Coinciding with the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, Mr Reid said the convention marked a step forward in combating the modern day slavery of human trafficking.
"I am committed to tackle this evil crime and help protect the innocent victims it yields, which is why today I have signed the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Human Trafficking which will provide us with a structured framework to introduce minimum rights and protection for all identified victims of trafficking," said Mr Reid.
The Home Office has also published an action plan on human trafficking, outlining how the government will tackle the sale of women and children for prostitution and low paid work.
New initiatives in the action plan will improve support services for victims and improve understanding of trafficking. Measures include; specialist teams at ports of entry, the launched of a Child Trafficking Telephone Advice line and a national referral mechanism to identify and support victims.
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said: "Human trafficking is an appalling crime which causes terrible trauma to its victims. I have heard first hand from those who have suffered at the hands of traffickers and I am fully committed to do all I can to end this horrific crime.
"The publication of the action plan and signing of the convention demonstrates the government's commitment to do more and help identify and protect the victims of this vile crime and is another step towards our other main aim to make the UK a hostile place for traffickers."
By signing the European convention, the UK will have to allow victims of human trafficking a 30-day grace period to stay in the country. Opposition to this clause had stalled the UK's commitment to the convention, as ministers feared it could be open to abuse.
Tony Blair confirmed during this week's prime minister's question time that the UK supported the convention.
Mr Blair announced plans to disrupt criminal gangs by seizing their assets, as well as additional funding for voluntary bodies to help trafficking victims. Furthermore women need to understand they will not be at a disadvantage if they give evidence, he said.
Speaking to mark the abolition of the slave trade, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the UK must tackle modern day slavery. The Liberal Democrats welcomed the government's signature on the convention, but warned it now needs to be ratified.
"Slavery still exists in the UK and we must oppose and tackle all forms of modern day slavery wherever we find it," he said.
Shadow home secretary David Davis also welcomed the convention, but warned further steps are necessary.
Mr Davis argued: "In January the Conservative party also announced policies based on policing our borders, protecting the victims and prosecuting the traffickers. Signing up to the convention while welcome is insufficient alone.
"There are more practical measures that he could and should adopt to combat this heinous crime - such as establishing a dedicated UK Border Police which would proactively detect and deter this evil practice."
Estimates on human trafficking in the UK vary, although some reports claim Britain is one of the top destinations. It is thought 4,000 victims of human trafficking worked as prostitutes in the UK in 2003.