Three men working at scrap yards in the West Midlands have been arrested as part of an investigation into modern slavery.
Police raided CAP Recycling in Elwell Street, West Bromwich, and sister firm Black Country Recycling in Union Road, Oldbury, on 27 September.
A 52-year-old local man was arrested at the Elwell Street facility and, in connected raids in West Bromwich and Handsworth Wood, men aged 26 and 47 were arrested on suspicion of slavery offences.
West Midlands Police says the men have been arrested on suspicion of working a group of Polish nationals like slaves and paying them just £1 an hour.
Some 11 Polish men are being “safeguarded” by the police, six of whom were found at the two businesses, three at a flat in Market Place and another two in a van outside a suspect’s address in Hope Street.
The police said one man is believed to have been working despite having a broken shoulder, while others were displaying signs of malnutrition and alcohol dependency.
All the men were taken to a reception centre in Tipton where they are being supported by the Red Cross.
Inspector Colin Mattinson, who led the operation, said police intelligence suggested workers at the sites were being paid £10 a day for working long hours.
“By contrast, it is believed the men taking advantage of these people – and playing on their vulnerabilities by plying them with alcohol – were living luxury lifestyles and driving around in high-value cars.
“We have found evidence suggesting that some of these men were sleeping at one of the recycling units and bedding down on waste cardboard.
“Suspected victims will receive medical attention and support before being spoken to by our officers with the aid of Polish interpreters.”
The 11 men safeguarded will have the option of supporting a criminal complaint and referred through the National Referral Mechanism.
Should they be identified as victims, they will be housed by the Salvation Army outside the region, away from suspected gang masters, for 28 days while enquiries progress.
The operation saw the police work alongside the National Crime Agency’s Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking Unit, Health and Safety Executive, West Midlands Fire Service and council housing officers.
Preet Gill, Sandwell Council cabinet member for public health and protection, said: “Modern day slavery may be a hidden crime but it’s a real concern.
“I hope today’s arrests will give a strong warning, as well as encouraging people to report suspicious behaviour which may indicate exploitation is happening in their neighbourhood.”
Mattinson said tell-tale signs of possible exploitation included large numbers of people staying in multi-occupancy houses and people being transported from the address in vans or minibuses early in the morning and returning late at night.
According to Companies House records, Black Country Recycling is a separate entity from textiles firm BCR Global, which entered administration last year.
The company raided by the police was registered at its current address only in May this year. It previously launched at a different address in 2014 but was dissolved in February this year.