Anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice has told the waste and recycling industry it needs “robust policies and procedures” to prevent people trafficking, after four men were jailed for forcing Polish immigrants to work in recycling facilities.
On 30 May, a judge at Teesside Crown Court sentenced the men for a combined 32 years for their role in exploiting “many, many” workers from Poland between June 2014 and September 2016.
The victims had been threatened, deprived of money and food, and made to live in unfit accommodation.
A related prosecution involving five defendants is currently being heard at Leeds Crown Court.
Neil Wain, international programme director at Hope for Justice and a former assistant chief constable at Greater Manchester Police, said: “This indicates once again the risk that is evident within the waste, recycling and environmental processing sector.
“It’s important for companies who are engaged in this business sector to ensure they have robust policies and procedures in place, especially around recruitment, to avoid infiltration by traffickers.
“Hope for Justice can offer specialised advice and training on keeping your business safe from modern slavery. We have been closely involved in this case, and we are able to offer support and guidance for victims and businesses that might find themselves in a similar position.”
Many within the sector have been reticent in making any public statements about the case.
But a spokesperson for Suez told MRW: “This case in the north-east does highlight the extent of the problem. It’s very much a live issue and we all need to be on our guard.”
Suez is one of a number of waste and recycling companies to use a training scheme run by Hope for Justice to help managers spot the signs of forced labour.
The charity also works with employment agency Smart Solutions, which supplies workers to the UK waste sector.
Smart Solutions’ anti-slavery statement says the company “co-ordinates with Hope for Justice on specific human trafficking matters, on staff training and in further engagement with its supply chain”. Hope for Justice also attended Smart Solutions’ staff conference in 2015.
The north-east slavery case is not the first to hit the sector. In September last year, police raided CAP Recycling in Elwell Street, West Bromwich, and sister firm Black Country Recycling in Union Road, Oldbury, on suspected slavery offences.
Twelve workers from Poland and Slovakia were thought to be victims of trafficking and were paid as little as £1 an hour.
A total of four men have been arrested and investigations are continuing.