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Majority of forced labour victims 'exploited at recycling facilities'

More than two-thirds of victims of modern slavery in the UK are made to work in a recycling or waste facility during their time in exploitation, it has emerged.

MRW exclusive

200 MRW exclusive

The estimate was based on analysis of case notes by Hope for Justice, a charity that works with police and other agencies to support the victims of modern slavery.

The charity warned that the sector is one of the most vulnerable to traffickers, “alongside hand car washes, nail bars, agriculture and low-skilled factory work”. Victims are often moved from job to job.

MRW’s Industry Insight survey has also revealed that 8% of respondents witnessed a possible modern slavery incident in the past year.

One respondent reported that eastern European gangmasters brought people in to work as pickers and that “often they would claim to be acting as a friend to help interpret”.

Neil Wain, international programme director and a former assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said: “These survey findings suggest there may still be a limited awareness of the factors that cause and contribute to modern slavery in this sector of the economy, and that more training and understanding would be beneficial.

“In our experience, more than two-thirds of the victims of forced labour we rescued in the UK last year had spent at least some of their time in exploitation at a facility doing some kind of waste processing or recycling.

“Although this is not necessarily nationally representative, because of the geography of our investigative hubs and the fact that we have deliberately focused on this sector, it does provide anecdotal illustration of the scale of the problem, outside of a few star performers who are doing really good work.”

Hope for Justice also released a case study of a man, Piotr (not his real name), who was lured to the UK with the promise of work only to find his wages being taken.

“I found myself working for long hours with no pay.”

Piotr said: “I was given work at a recycling plant, processing and sorting raw materials that came into the depot – the hours were long, the work was hard and the environment was dirty and smelt bad. But it was work and I needed to earn money to pay for food and accommodation.

“I was taken to a bank and ‘assisted’ in opening a bank account by my trafficker… as my English was extremely limited then, I was directed how to do this and the translation for the bank was conducted by my traffickers.

“The documentation and card for the account arrived at the house, but was taken by the trafficker. So, when I got paid, I found myself working for long hours with no pay as the wages were paid into the bank account that I now had no access to.”

Law enforcement agencies warn that modern slavery victims are often “hidden in plain sight”.

According to the National Crime Agency, there was an 11% increase in the number of referrals of potential victims to agencies in the first quarter of 2018, to 1,631.

In 2017, a total of 5,145 potential victims were referred, a 35% increase on 2016. This counts only those who come to the attention of the authorities.

Outgoing anti-trafficking commissioner Kevin Hyland has said the true number of victims is in the tens of thousands, far higher than official estimates of around 13,000.

The Government has commissioned a review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 following criticism of current efforts to tackle forced labour.

Crime minister Victoria Atkins said in July: “It is clear some companies are leading the way but others are falling behind. I’ve asked for this review to look at [whether] we should strengthen our legislation to ensure businesses are taking robust action to eradicate forced labour in their supply chains.”

Comment: How to spot the signs of modern slavery

It is good to see from the quotes in the [MRW] survey that some people are clearly aware of the indicators and red flags to watch out for. These include workers who seem unable to travel freely – for example, they are always picked up and dropped off at a business or residential address by another person, especially if it is a group of workers.

Also look out for lights on at night at workplaces where you would not usually expect this, suggesting people might be living there. Other key signs are that wages are collected by another person, especially if they also talk (or interpret) on the worker’s behalf, and workers looking unusually malnourished, confused or scared.

Physical and psychological trauma is a common sign – anxiety, lack of memory of recent events, bruising, untreated conditions. An especially telling indicator is if you hear of someone doing work connected to a debt or without access to their own documents.

Extensive in-depth training in how to identify and respond to modern slavery, how to protect your operations and supply chain from traffickers and advice when choosing a labour provider is available from Hope for Justice’s business membership scheme. can also advise on how to conduct a good-quality supplier risk assessment and labour management system, advice on writing a modern slavery statement, on-site threat assessments, and resources for your workplace and sites.

Neil Wain, international programme director and a former assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester Police

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