Often regarded as a shameful relic of Bristol’s past, the reality is that modern day slavery remains rife in the city today – lurking in plain sight, but unseen.
Avon and Somerset Police has dealt with 60 investigations across the region in the last 12 months alone and has seen an increase in reports of the illegal practise, leading to raids of nail bars, car washes and other premises.
The South West Anti-Slavery Partnership was established to raise awareness of the illicit practice and encourage everyone to play a part in tackling the issue.
Jo is one of the workers at a Bristol car wash that was investigated for human trafficking offences. It was believed the business owner and his partner were recruiting workers from Slovakia before exploiting them.
“Jo has never received any payment for any of the work he has done over the last 18 months,” said an officer involved in the case.
“He feels ashamed that he has not been able to support his family as was the intention of him coming to the UK.”
Jo is left feeling trapped in the situation as every time he has asked for money, he is told there is none to give him and he will have to wait. And he is not the only one in this position.
Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Sue Mountstevens is using Anti-Slavery Day on Wednesday (October 18) to call on people across the region to be more aware of the signs of modern slavery and play a part in clamping down on it.
“I find it hard to imagine that in this day and age slavery still exists, however the sad truth is that it does.
“Sadly, modern slavery often occurs in everyday situations and that’s why we all have a role to play in being a louder voice for those who are trafficked and exploited.
“Tackling modern slavery and human trafficking is part of my priority of protecting the most vulnerable from harm. Working closely with the Anti-Slavery Partnership, Unseen and other partners, I want the Police to continue focusing on this terrible crime, supporting victims and bringing offenders to justice.”
Some victims of modern slavery are lured to the UK with promises of a better life, only to find themselves so heavily indebted to those who transport them that they have to work for their traffickers for nothing.
And it’s not just businesses that traffic people for exploitation, one victim had her travel documents taken by a family member upon arrival in the UK.
She has been a domestic slave, undertaking chores such as cooking, cleaning, ironing, washing and gardening.
She is not allowed to leave the house, has no access to keys, mobile phone or internet access and is regularly beaten by her husband.
It was only when the abuse was disclosed during a doctor appointment that the case came to light and the woman’s has now been arrested for modern slavery related offences and is on bail pending further enquiries.
Kate Garbers, managing director of charity Unseen and co-chair of the South West regional Anti-Slavery Partnership said: “Modern slavery is an illicit trade in which human beings are turned into commodities to be bought, sold and exploited for vast profits.
“No one agency can tackle this crime in isolation and the ASP provides a way for organisations and agencies to work together to identify victims and prosecute perpetrators.”
Anyone can spot the signs of slavery and can report them to the Modern Slavery Helpline 24-hours a day on 08000 121 700.
Read more about the signs of modern slavery online.