Every country, regardless of its level of economic development, is affected by human trafficking and modern slavery. The International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2016 estimated that there are around 40.3 million victims of modern slavery worldwide, with almost 62% subjected to labour exploitation. Perpetrators trick people with false promises of a better life, well-paid jobs, education, and comfortable accommodation. In reality, victims are forced to work long hours for little or no pay and usually live in squalid, overcrowded conditions. Intelligence reports have identified the Fenlands as a hotspot for labour exploitation. The current report focuses on the situation in Wisbech and surrounding areas including Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
Whilst anyone can be at risk of modern slavery – regardless of age, gender, nationality and socio-economic circumstances – vulnerable people, such as those that are homeless, unemployed, have learning difficulties or complex drug and alcohol issues, are often targeted. Foreign nationals can also become targets, usually (but not always) exploited by people of the same nationality.
Frequently they are:
- Recruited online through social media or face-to-face in the street
- Tricked with false promises of well-paid work, accommodation and travel costs
- Subjected to squalid living conditions and forced to work long hours for little or no wages
- Moved around the country
Victims struggle to leave because exploiters achieve compliance and maintain control through:
- Physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse
- Confiscation of identity documents
- Threats of violence to victims and their family members
- Social isolation and restricted movement
- Debt bondage and financial dependence
Victims are often foreign nationals, usually (but not always) exploited by people of the same nationality. British people can be victims too. These individuals can work as much as 12 hours a day, 7 days per week. They are not allowed to take days off or refuse shifts, as this will jeopardise their chances of getting future work. Traffickers do not pay the national minimum wage and often pay under the counter, sometimes £1 per hour or even less. In some cases, people hold a legitimate job but are forced to pay some of their salary to their traffickers.
Traffickers control victims in multiple ways. They frequently charge high amounts for transport, give extortionate loans for food, place victims in overcrowded accommodation and threaten them with homelessness. Victims are stuck in a loop of dependency with their traffickers. Rent, deposits, and bills are collected in advance, leaving individuals in debt bondage. Moreover, documents, credit cards, and cash are taken from victims. These forms of control are often linked to physical abuse and force victims to rely on traffickers for everything.
Spot the signs
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If you are concerned you’ve witnessed trafficking activity it is important you report it to the appropriate organisation, so long as you feel that it is safe to do so.
To anonymously report a crime contact Crimestoppers
Modern Slavery Helpline
For help or advice on modern slavery contact the Modern Slavery Helpline