LONDON, May 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A week-long crackdown on slavery in the workplace - from carwash to care home - has rescued dozens of suspected victims and netted several arrests, British police said on Wednesday.
The nationwide anti-slavery drive uncovered suspected slaves at work in Britain and fresh victims landing by plane and sea ready for exploitation, said the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and the National Crime Agency (NCA).
About 50 suspected victims were identified while 10 people were arrested on suspicion of slavery offences, said the two bodies in a joint statement.
The NCA has been dubbed Britain’s FBI while the GLAA is a government body with police-style powers to investigate cases.
“This co-ordinated week of activity aimed to disrupt and build intelligence on the criminal networks involved in labour exploitation,” said Roy McComb, deputy director of the NCA.
“We have also aimed to speak to those at risk of falling into exploitation and help them understand the issues ... often victims don’t recognise themselves as such until it’s too late.”
In Britain, at least 13,000 people are estimated by the government to be victims of modern slavery, used in forced labour, sex exploitation or domestic servitude. Police say the true figure is more likely to be in the tens of thousands.
The NCA received 5,145 reports of suspected slavery victims in 2017, up from 3,804 in 2016, with abuse in nail bars, building sites, factories, farms and hand car washes.
Forced labour accounts for about a third of slavery victims in Britain - mostly men from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, the GLAA said.
The week-long series of raids was the latest operation in Britain’s law enforcement response to slavery and trafficking, backed up by prevention efforts to protect vulnerable people.
Police and anti-slavery officials have posted advice on social media in several languages on how to spot the signs of slavery and to help victims, visited building sites to offer guidance to employers, and carried out checks on fishing boats.
“Though we have had a week of action to highlight the issue, the GLAA and others are involved in these type of activities every single day,” said Ian Waterfield, a director at the GLAA.
Regarded as a leader in the global drive to end slavery, Britain passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 to crack down on traffickers, force businesses to check their supply chains for forced labour, and protect people at risk of being enslaved. (Writing By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)