Police Scotland have launched a campaign raising awareness about modern slavery after more than 200 referrals were made during 2020.
The campaign urges communities and businesses to be vigilant for signs of modern slavery and report any concerns.
During 2020, 228 referrals were received by police warning of people across Scotland who may have been the victim of labour exploitation. A total of 387 referrals were made to the National Reporting Mechanism in 2020, of those 58.9% were in relation to labour exploitation.
The number of referrals received each month fluctuated throughout the year as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted and imposed, and there are fears that many potential crimes have gone unreported as a result of victims being less visible. This figure is also expected to rise significantly as restrictions ease again.
“Assistant Chief Constable Judi Heaton, Police Scotland’s lead for Major Crime, Public Protection and Local Crime, said: “Modern slavery is a crime and it’s happening here and now, in Scotland. Many people may think it won’t happen where they live or work, however the reality is it can happen anywhere - in your community, in your industry – and you can help stop it. Not all victims see themselves as victims - they may have made a choice to come to Scotland on a promise of a better life, fallen into the hands of traffickers and then found themselves victims of horrific deception and exploitation.”
Men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds can fall victim to exploitation at work. They will be paid little or no legal wage, controlled and their choices limited with poor working conditions putting their safety at risk. Victims of labour exploitation are mainly men and boys and traffickers tend to target the most vulnerable people in society, such as migrants and people without jobs.
Both UK residents and foreign nationals can targeted. Many victims are controlled long before they reach the UK while other victims are targeted after they arrive either as legitimate workers or illegal migrants.
Labour exploitation often occurs in criminal enterprises but it also present in legitimate industry sectors, with agriculture including fruit picking and food processing, construction, packaging, and offshore fishing regarded as being most at risk in Scotland.
The campaign has been launched to highlight the issue and explain what people should do if they have concerns. Adverts will run on television and social media and a website has been created containing further information and advice.
The campaign highlights that signs to look out for include:
- Individuals who work but have little or no money to buy their basic necessities.
- Workers who are made to live in poor and dirty conditions.
- Workers who have their time both on and off duty dictated to them.
- People who are nervous and scared of authority.
Assistant Chief Constable Judi Heaton, Police Scotland’s lead for Major Crime, Public Protection and Local Crime, said: “It is absolutely vital that we increase awareness of the warning signs so that reporting can increase. In particular it is absolutely crucial that the business community is aware of the important role they must play in identifying and reporting exploited workers and business owners, employees, trade unions, bank and benefits staff to name just a few, can all play a vital role by reporting their concerns. Take a close look at supply chains, tell your customers and suppliers what you’re doing to prevent exploitation, and make it your duty to protect all workers.
“Police, other enforcement agencies and partners cannot tackle this issue alone. We also need the public to work with us if we are to identify and help vulnerable individuals being exploited. If you suspect exploitation is happening in your community, please report it to police,” she concluded.
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