Modern slavery in Britain is a “lucrative business” which is showing no signs of abating, according to the founder of a charity which supports adults who have been trafficked and find themselves enslaved.
Yvonne Hall, the founder and managing director of Palm Cove Society, believes all places of work should have a modern slavery policy to help stamp out the practice.
Her remarks follow a recent report by two official watchdogs which warned that Britain’s border force was missing thousands of victims and has prosecuted only two human traffickers since 2014.
There are an estimated 13,000 victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK, according to the the joint report by the chief inspector of borders, David Bolt, and the anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland.
In 2015, more than 3,200 potential victims were referred to the authorities through a system set up by the government to identify and support victims of trafficking.
Some 94 per cent of those came from abroad, the investigation published on Thursday (February 2) showed.
However, less than one per cent of these potential victims were identified by border officials, the report said.
Hall told Eastern Eye that around 33 per cent of people supported by her organisation come from south Asian countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The majority are women brought to the UK as new brides and exploited by their in-laws.
“Bringing victims over to be married off is a lucrative business, so I think it will continue and it is increasing. It’s a huge problem,” she said.
“They [victims] have no recourse to public funds and are beholden to the people who bring them in. They are brought in as domestic slaves and put to work by families,” Hall explained.
“We have also have men who have been married to British women, brought over and made to work in the family’s factory.
“When they are brought into the UK, they believe they are coming to a good job and a good family. They are told a web of lies, and are deceived.”
Hall rescued and supported three women who were enslaved by Aravindan Balakrishnan in his Maoist cult in south London for decades. She recently featured in a documentary about the high-profile case, and her organisation works in partnership with police services and the Home Office.
She said some of the women who are referred to the charity are victims of domestic abuse in the family home and are treated “absolutely horrendously”.
“When we sit down and talk to them, they have been trafficked into the UK for the purpose of labour exploitation, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, all those things under the guise of marriage. So this is another form of domestic slavery.”
When asked if it was an issue that the government recognised, Hall said it was another aspect of domestic slavery that she was working to highlight.
Victims are often abused for months and trapped because if they leave the marriage, not only will their husbands and in-laws turn against them, but the community will too, Hall said.
“It has a real impact on the whole emotional, physical and psychological well-being and those are the things that we have to try and rebuild. If they escape, their confidence takes a huge emotional knock, family members in south Asia and the UK reject them and turn against them because they have walked away from the marriage. It’s very difficult.
“We have people who are very isolated, very vulnerable in a new country, with children or perhaps pregnant, who are very much alone. Sometimes their passports are confiscated, so we have to try and regularise their immigration status,” she explained.
Meanwhile, homeless charity group The Passage said last month that they were hearing of rogue employers exploiting the rising number of rough sleepers on Britain’s streets and luring them into a life of modern slavery in the building and farming sectors, and even illegal boxing.
Of the 61 homeless organisations surveyed by the charity, 64 per cent had come across cases of modern slavery.
Case workers cited vulnerable homeless people who were recruited off the street to work in building sites, on farms and to take part in illegal boxing matches for little or no pay.
The Modern Slavery Act became law in March 2015 and increased jail terms for traffickers. It brought in measures to protect people feared at risk of being enslaved.
In January, two Polish brothers were jailed for stealing wages of around 18 other Poles they tricked with promises of work in the UK.
Hall believes the next step would be for all organisations to have a modern slavery policy to tackle the issue.
In an initiative launched in December, hotels across Britain pledged to fight modern slavery, by encouraging staff and guests to help spot signs of trafficking in hotel foyers and corridors.
In America recently, a flight attendant rescued a victim of trafficking after she spotted a girl looking dishevelled on a plane accompanied by a well-dressed man.
When she tried to speak to the two passengers, the man reportedly became defensive and the girl wouldn’t engage in conversation. The crew member subsequently left a note for the teenager in the plane’s toilet, which she later responded to with the message: “I need help.” The man was arrested when the flight landed in San Francisco.
When it comes to spotting signs of slavery, Hall admitted it could sometimes be very difficult to detect and believed more training was needed for border staff.
She said clues included women travelling with a group of men who were much older, and people who clearly looked like they were in distress.
“Our team has worked with the police at local airports and they are very good at spotting anomalies,” Hall said.
The detailed report by Bolt and Hyland said considerable efforts had been made to train staff in tackling trafficking, but some officers told inspectors they had completed the mandatory training as a box-checking exercise and saw their priority as moving queues at the borders quickly.
It acknowledged frontline officers faced a difficult task, but said the force had to make urgent changes to meet its responsibility to lead anti-slavery efforts at the border.
A spokesman from the Home Office said it was already taking action to address key issues raised in the report.
“The Border Force has a key role to play in identifying and protecting victims and stopping the callous criminals who exploit them. This work takes place not only at the UK border but in targeted operations at sea and working with law enforcement agencies at home and around the world. But we are determined to do more and continue to improve our response.”