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Modern Slavery - closer than you think

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Steve Knight (Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority), Debra Cowey (Changing Lives) and Justine Currell (Unseen)

‘Modern Slavery’ is a term that has become prominent over the past few years as organisations and individuals become better at identifying activities that are linked to the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people. Behind Modern Slavery, there are stories of people being forced to work for no wages, or low, wages and live in squalid conditions. 

Modern Slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain.  Victims are trapped in servitude, which they were deceived or coerced into, and feel they cannot leave. Modern Slavery can include sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude. Common areas of labour exploitation include agriculture, food processing, factories, construction, car wash, domestic servitude, cannabis cultivation, tarmacking, sexual exploitation and monetary fraud – where victims are forced to claim benefits, take out loans or amass credit card debts but the money is withheld.

An event to raise awareness in County Durham and Darlington ‘Modern Slavery – closer than you think’ took place on 18 March to put a spotlight on these issues and provide advice and guidance about how to identify someone who may be a victim and where to find advice and guidance on action to address these concerns.

The event was attended by a range of businesses, employers and those with licensing responsibilities who heard from key organisation who provide support to victims. 

Justine Currell Executive Director of Unseen, a charity which operates the national helpline, said “often victims are hidden in plain sight. You could be working with a colleague who is a victim, without him or her ever disclosing it. Anyone who suspects they may be working with a victim of modern slavery should contact us on 08000 121 700.”

Signs to look out for include:

  • People appearing withdrawn, scared, not willing to talk
  • Unkempt appearance, malnourished, few possessions, health concerns
  • Inappropriate clothing for the job they’re doing, long hours, having little or no money
  • Fear of speaking to police or authorities
  • In debt to or dependent on someone else
  • Living in overcrowded, poorly maintained property, blacked out windows in the property
  • No ID, no access to bank account, being transported to work every day
  • Unable to move freely, unwilling or scared to leave

Steve Knight, from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), added “our overriding priority is to protect vulnerable people from being exploited in the workplace which we achieve by working in partnership and acting upon information received from a variety of sources. We will always look to investigate and prosecute criminals responsible for offences of Human Trafficking, Modern Day Slavery and Labour Exploitation in whatever form it may take. Support and advice can be obtained from the GLAA by calling our confidential reporting hotline on 0800 432 0804”.

Ron Hogg, Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington, has given priority to addressing modern day slavery in his Police, Crime and Victims’ Plan. Speaking after the event, Ron said “it was great that so many people were engaging in discussion about identifying and stopping the serious criminals who perpetrate these crimes. I am determined to put things in place to make modern slavery less prevalent in County Durham and Darlington but above all, our priority is identifying, supporting and protecting the victims of these horrific crimes that prey on the most vulnerable people in our society”.

The Unseen App provides a simple guide to recognising the signs of modern slavery and reporting concerns in confidence.  The App is free to download from the following App stores:



Google Play





Posted on Wednesday 17th April 2019
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