The UK’s independent anti-slavery commissioner will say in Belfast today that foreign nationals – and UK citizens – are being exploited in full-blown slavery in every town and city across the UK.
Kevin Hyland is visiting on Anti-Slavery Day to support a new Department of Justice campaign running in partnership with public and private organisations, being launched at the old workhouse at Clifton House in Belfast.
One of his biggest challenges has remained constant in his eight years in the post.
“It is to convince everybody of the seriousness of this issue and the prevalence of it,” he said.
“We are starting to get more and more evidence that this is occurring in every town and city in the UK.”
Freedom of Information research reveals that since 2015 traffickers have been arrested and victims recovered from council areas including Antrim and Newtownabbey, Mid and East Antrim, Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon, Belfast, Londonderry and Strabane, Newry Mourne and Down, Mid Ulster and Lisburn and Castlereagh.
For “far too long” government agencies and society have been seeing modern slavery but not recognising it, he said. “But this is serious organised crime with criminals that have been making a lot of money for a long time; $150bn annual is the global estimate.”
Last year UK nationals were the third most prevalent nationality of victims in the UK. The main types of slavery today are:
• Forced labour – in agriculture, car washes, nail bars and the fishing industry
• Forced shoplifting, cannabis farming and begging
• Sexual exploitation of women, young men and boys
• Domestic servitude – often in very wealthy houses
He has met many British women who have been traded for sexual exploitation across the UK from from they were 13 until 19.
“I have gone into brothels and everyone in there has said ‘these are normal brothels’ and then you find a woman hiding in the cupboard who has lived in that building for six months and had to have sex every single day with a number of men.”
A well-known high street retailer was recently found to have had people in modern slavery who were being controlled by a rogue employment agency, he added.
“When you look properly, when you listen to the victims, when you see the circumstances that people are living in; the defenders of that will often be the criminals themselves. So it is time we really woke up to this.”
He praised the PSNI, as being the only UK force for two years in a row which has accurately recorded 100% of modern slavery crimes.
Since 2015 the PSNI has recovered over 100 victims. In this financial year it has rescued 34 potential victims, from sexual exploitation (15 victims), labour exploitation (nine), criminal exploitation (five), domestic servitude (two) and unknown types of exploitation (three).
• Anyone with suspicions can call 999 in an emergency, 101 or use the Modern Slavery Helpline 08000 121 700.