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Waste crime and modern slavery

The Government is increasingly taking notice of industry concerns about the level of crime affecting the sector, and it is expected that the resources and waste strategy will include wide-ranging measures to tackle the problem.

Have you personally witnessed an incident of waste crime during the past year (illegal dumping, misdescription of waste, and so on)?*

It is a sobering thought that around half of those working in the industry have seen waste crime for themselves.

Despite the Environment Agency (EA) receiving an extra £30m of Government funding over five years to tackle waste crime, the agency missed its target to reduce the number of active high-risk illegal waste sites. In 2017-18 there were 259 such sites against a target of 223.

Our 2017 survey revealed a strong opinion within the sector for tougher sentences for waste criminals. EA chair Emma Howard Boyd has now called for longer prison sentences and heavier fines for waste criminals.

The Environmental Services Association’s Rethinking Waste Crime

report, published last year, estimated that misclassification of waste and fraud during the same period – mainly around landfill tax – had an estimated negative impact on England’s economy to the tune of £129m in 2015.

It has proved an influential publication, and the application of landfill tax has since been extended to illegal sites.

The Government has also launched a review into the extent of serious and organised crime in the waste sector and how to combat it, along with plans to crack down on the use of exemptions at waste sites, tackle incompetent operators and introduce tougher Duty of Care penalties.

Have you witnessed an incident within the past year, or have been personally informed, that made you think that workers at a recycling or waste plant have been victims of modern slavery?

01 modern slavery

This issue will not fade away. Roughly the same percentage of respondents reported ‘yes’ to this question as in 2017. But the industry is still not talking openly about the problem, even if behind closed doors some companies are taking action.

The Hope for Justice charity works with police and other agencies to support victims of forced labour. It has indicated to MRW

that in cases it deals with, more than two- thirds of victims had some contact with the recycling or waste processing industry during their period in exploitation. 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 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: “I’ve asked for this review to look at if we should strengthen our legislation to ensure businesses are taking robust action to eradicate forced labour in their supply chains.”

It is a very serious problem that exists in plain sight, at pop-up car washes, nail bars and recycling facilities.

* Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding

“Lots of incidents happened.”

“Impossible to distinguish some agency workers’ conditions from potential modern slavery.”

”Eastern European gangmasters bring people in to work as pickers. Often they would claim to be acting as a friend to help to interpret.”

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