Police launch campaign to tackle modern slavery

Police received 228 referrals warning of people who may have been the victim of labour exploitation last year.

Police launch campaign to tackle modern slavery PA Ready
Modern slavery: Police have launched a campaign.

People are being urged to watch out for signs of modern slavery as police launch a campaign to raise awareness about the crime.

Last year police received 228 referrals warning of people across Scotland who may have been the victim of labour exploitation.

There are fears many potential crimes have gone unreported as victims were less visible during lockdown and the figure is expected to increase significantly when restrictions ease again.

Police said that men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds can fall victim to exploitation at work where they may be paid little or no legal wage, be controlled and their choices limited with poor working conditions putting their safety at risk.

Labour exploitation often occurs in criminal enterprises but can also happen in legitimate industry sectors, with agriculture including fruit picking and food processing, construction, packaging, and offshore fishing regarded as being most at risk in Scotland.

Police Scotland has launched a campaign to highlight the issue, asking people to be aware and vigilant of the signs of exploitation, and explaining what they should do if they have concerns.

Assistant chief constable Judi Heaton, Police Scotland’s lead for major crime, public protection and local crime, said: “Modern slavery is a crime and it’s happening here and now, in Scotland. Many people may think it won’t happen where they live or work, however the reality is it can happen anywhere – in your community, in your industry – and you can help stop it.

“Not all victims see themselves as victims – they may have made a choice to come to Scotland on a promise of a better life, fallen into the hands of traffickers and then found themselves victims of horrific deception and exploitation.

“It is absolutely vital that we increase awareness of the warning signs so that reporting can increase.

“In particular it is absolutely crucial that the business community is aware of the important role they must play in identifying and reporting exploited workers and business owners, employees, trade unions, bank and benefits staff to name just a few, can all play a vital role by reporting their concerns.

“Take a close look at supply chains, tell your customers and suppliers what you’re doing to prevent exploitation, and make it your duty to protect all workers.

“Police, other enforcement agencies and partners cannot tackle this issue alone. We also need the public to work with us if we are to identify and help vulnerable individuals being exploited. If you suspect exploitation is happening in your community, please report it to police.”

The force said victims of labour exploitation are mostly, but not exclusively, men and boys, and intelligence shows traffickers target the most vulnerable such as migrants and people without jobs.

Both UK residents and foreign nationals can targeted, with many victims controlled long before they reach the UK.

In other instances victims are targeted after they arrive either as legitimate workers or illegal migrants.

Police said that key signs to look out for include individuals who work but have little or no money to buy their basic necessities, and people who are nervous and scared of authority.

Other signs to look out for are workers who are made to live in poor and dirty conditions and workers who have their time both on and off duty dictated to them.

As part of the campaign, adverts will run on television and social media over the next five weeks, while a dedicated website has been created containing further information and advice.