Workers in the agriculture and horticulture sectors have been visited by police and their partners as part of a national operation to combat and raise awareness of modern slavery.
Last week Bedfordshire Police’s Op Sentinel Rural Crime Team joined the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and Hertfordshire Police’s dedicated human trafficking and modern slavery team, Operation Tropic, for a visit to a local business.
It was part of Operation Aidant, an initiative organised by the National Crime Agency to run regular operations and awareness raising of modern slavery, human trafficking and exploitation.
Police officers worked with commercial flower growers to speak to staff and check on their welfare.
The business owner was also given information about the GLAA’s licensed labour providers, as well as further advice on expanding their work force.
Last month a number of people were discovered living in a farm building near the Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire border.
As a result,10 people were safeguarded and offered support, including repatriation for those who wanted it, coordinated with the help of Bedford Borough Council and Noah Enterprise.
Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway has also funded radio advertising to raise awareness of exploitative crime types including modern slavery and county lines.
She said: "The recent Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery operation in Bedfordshire on a farm highlights that this can be very much a hidden crime, taking place in remote rural locations away from public view.
"That is why it’s been so critical to provide education to those living in our rural communities, as well as in an urban setting, so that they recognise the signs such as multiple occupancy of buildings and sub-standard accommodation or individuals from outside the area who are not seen beyond the work spaces or during transportation.
“However, this crime is not solely linked to rural locations. This summer has seen safeguarding of women trafficked to this county and forced into the sex trade as well.
"I would like to urge anyone with a suspicion that individuals are being held against their will or in poor living conditions to contact Bedfordshire Police.”
Around half of the potential victims of modern slavery identified by Bedfordshire Police last year were suspected victims of labour exploitation.
Chief Inspector Lee Haines said: “We are committed to working with our communities and local employers to raise awareness of such exploitation, including in the agricultural sector.
“By communicating with people and building relationships, we hope to prevent modern slavery and help raise awareness of the signs of exploitation by organised crime.
“It’s important for us to continue to work with partners to tackle such exploitation, and carry out regular visits and operations.
“Sadly, modern slavery and exploitation is going on all around us – almost 400 potential victims were identified in the county last year, the fifth highest of all UK police force areas.”
GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Jennifer Baines said: “Working with businesses to help raise awareness and drive up industry standards is crucial in the fight against labour abuse.
"This is especially important in the agricultural sector, where the public is becoming increasingly aware of the signs of exploitation and are reporting their concerns to us in greater numbers than ever before.
“Over the last few months, we have worked with police forces to visit farms and other agricultural sites across the south of England to ensure that they are receiving the support that they need during the coronavirus pandemic and are continuing to treat their workers fairly.
"These joint welfare visits with partners will continue over the summer months.”
Anyone with information or concerns about modern slavery can report here or call 101. Call 999 if there are immediate concerns.
You can contact the GLAA or call 0800 432 0804.
Alternatively, you can also report things anonymously and in confidence to the Modern Slavery Helpline via 08000 121 700.
Source: Dunstable Today