Video: Tackling labour exploitation during the coronavirus pandemic
29th June 2020
Labour exploitation exists in communities up and down the UK, with vulnerable workers in industries ranging from construction to food production all potentially at risk if abuses are allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged.
Despite whole sectors of the economy shutting down over recent months because of the strict lockdown measures introduced by the government in mid-March, the threat of forced labour remains, and in some cases, has intensified because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
That’s why it’s more important than ever for organisations such as the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to be visible upholding workers’ rights and enforcing labour market legislation.
The video below shows one of the GLAA’s enforcement teams conducting an operation in the Holyhead area of Birmingham on the morning of Tuesday June 23.
A 35-year-old Romanian woman was arrested by the GLAA at the address on suspicion of forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
She has been released under investigation while enquiries continue.
The GLAA received intelligence indicating that up to 15 people had been potentially exploited, with money taken out of their bank accounts and placed by the suspect in overcrowded accommodation.
Reports also suggested that the situation was so desperate that some of the potential victims had resorted to looking for food from supermarket bins.
Four workers found inside the property were interviewed by GLAA officers and given information about their rights.
Extensive searches were also made of the address, with investigators discovering some unsanitary living conditions as well as evidence for the investigation.
GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Andy Davies said: “Labour exploitation has not stopped because of coronavirus and crucially neither have we in our efforts to tackle it.
“Over the last three months, we have been proactive with our partners in emphasising the message that exploiting vulnerable workers is unacceptable at all times, and even more so when the country is going through an unprecedented public health crisis.
“At the start of the pandemic, criminals and unscrupulous employers may have thought there was a potential opportunity to exploit their workers. Our message to them is quite simple: we will not tolerate your behaviour, we will stop your exploitative practices, and we will use our powers to the maximum to make sure you answer for your criminal actions.”
The operation was supported by neighbourhood officers from West Midlands Police.
If you have any evidence that someone is a victim of labour exploitation, please call the GLAA’s intelligence team on 0800 4320804 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, contact the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.
This work forms part of Operation Aidant, a three-week exercise involving the GLAA, National Crime Agency and police to examine the impact of COVID-19 on the UK labour market.