Chicken farms and hotels among 200 new slavery cases investigated in Britain

By Reuters/Umberto Bacchi   October 24, 2017 | 03:22 pm GMT+7

At least 13,000 people are estimated to be victims of modern slavery in Britain.

Britain's anti-slavery body has opened more than 200 investigations into human trafficking over the past five months underscoring the true scale of the crime, with cases reported from farms to hotels, it said on Monday.

The Gangmasters and Labor Abuse Authority (GLAA) said it has probed cases involving poultry farms, car washes, food processing plants, hotels, fast food restaurants and other businesses since it was given new police-style powers in May.

At least 13,000 people are estimated to be victims of modern slavery in Britain, but police say that figure is just the tip of an iceberg, with numbers rising countrywide.

"The levels of exploitation and the levels of people in slavery are probably higher than initial estimates," Ian Waterfield, GLAA's director of operations told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The agency expected the number of investigations to reach 600 by May next year, said Waterfield.

Despite the extent of the crime, one in five people in Britain has never heard of modern slavery, and two-thirds do not know how to spot it, according to a recent poll.

Potential signs of slavery include looking unkempt, scared or working without proper clothing, the GLAA said last month as it launched a campaign to help the public identify trafficking.

In May, the agency was given the power to carry out arrests rather than refer offenders to police and saw its remit widened to investigate labour market offences across the economy.

Previously it had been limited to tackling the exploitation of vulnerable workers in the fresh produce sector.

Police in England and Wales recorded 2,255 modern slavery crimes in the past financial year, two-and-a-half times the number recorded during the same period for 2015/16, according to official figures.

Separate to the GLAA's investigations, there are currently more than 300 live police operations into modern slavery across Britain - a number that has risen from about 200 at the start of the year.

Britain is in the forefront of efforts to stamp out modern slavery and in 2015 passed landmark legislation that introduced life sentences for traffickers, better protection for people at risk of being enslaved, and forcing firms to disclose what they are doing to ensure their supply chains are free from slavery.

Last week, Britain's anti-slavery chief, Kevin Hyland, called for greater support for victims and urged businesses to do more to ensure their supply chains are free of forced labor.