People need to know that modern slavery is happening here in Kent, and they need to know how to spot the signs that someone is being exploited.
That was the message business leaders took away from a special Modern Day Slavery Conference held in Ashford on 28 March.
Dr Cheryl Mvula from the charity Stop the Traffik Kent said:
‘People think that slavery is only happening in places like India or Cambodia. They’re not aware that it is happening on the streets of Kent and all across the UK in full view. People are trapped working in nail bars and in car washes. They’re picking our strawberries, working in hotels and restaurants, and in off-street brothels.’
The conference heard about the case of a homeless man from southern Italy who was lured to the UK with the offer of £150 a week to work. In fact he received just £30 a week, as gangmasters insisted he was in debt bondage to them for his flight and accommodation - a mattress on the floor of the Gravesend restaurant kitchen where he was made to work for 70 hours a week.
The man sought help and is now safe, but many other vulnerable people are trapped in similar circumstances.
Dr Mvula continued:
‘It is a hard crime type to police so it needs a community response. Businesses need to be able to spot the signs of someone who is trapped in modern day slavery and know where to go for help.’
Restricted freedom: other people may hold their identity documents.
Limited communication: they may speak very little English, or none.
Poor working conditions: they may not have the right clothing or equipment to do the job.
Poor accommodation: they may live with colleagues and rely on provided transport to work.
Restricted finances: they may receive little payment, and have no access to earnings.
Unhealthy appearance: they may shows signs of injury or intimidation.
The Modern Day Slavery Conference was part-funded using money the Office of the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner obtained from the Government’s Modern Slavery Police Transformation Fund.
Alan Dann, Kent Police’s crime reduction project manager, said:
‘The aim of the conference was to help businesses spot the warning signs of modern day slavery, and emphasise the need to work with the police and other partners to target criminals and protect the most vulnerable. I am grateful to Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce for its help in arranging a really successful conference.’
Martin Small from Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce said:
‘The more we hear about the methods and practices which are going on, it is quite clear that this is a problem staring us all in the face. The responsibility for stamping out these practices lies with all businesses of all sizes.’
Business leaders concerned about their staff, contractors or supply chains, or just seeking advice, can call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.
If a crime is in progress or there is a danger to life, always dial 999.