Car washes, mini-markets and fruit-picking sites were among the locations targeted during an operation aimed at safeguarding potential victims of labour exploitation.
Between Monday 14 and Friday 18 September 2020, officers from Kent Police’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking team worked with partners including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Border Force, the Kent and Essex Inshore and Conservation Authority (KEICA), the Environment Agency and the charity Stop the Traffik to visit a number of businesses across the county where concerns had previously been raised.
These included sites in Ashford, Canterbury, Chatham, Faversham, Gravesend and Sittingbourne.
No criminal offences were identified during the operation but officers engaged with a number of workers at each location and provided them with information on how to access support should they require it in the future.
Meanwhile, visits were also paid to beaches in Sheerness where concerns had previously been raised about illegal cockle-picking.
A group of cockle-pickers were located at one and warned by GLAA officers about the dangers of acting as potential unlicensed gangmasters and reminded of the health and safety risks of cockles unfit for human consumption entering the food chain. Furthermore, 20kg of shellfish were also removed by representatives from the KEICA.
Detective Sergeant Stacey Chapman of Kent Police’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking team said: ‘Tackling modern slavery and human trafficking is a shared responsibility and we work closely with our partners to help identify and protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
‘The types of businesses we visited are prone to abuse by criminals, which is why operations of the kind carried out this week are so important. Nobody who works in this country should be made to feel trapped or abused by their employer, and we want people to know we are here for them and to have the confidence to report any offences to us.
‘Fortunately the vast majority of organisations take good care of their workers, although we will not be complacent and will continue to visit those we consider at risk of exploitation to ensure they are fully aware of the support available.’
GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Jennifer Baines said: ‘Working in partnership to tackle modern slavery and labour exploitation is crucial if we are to protect vulnerable workers and uncover the real scale of the problem. This can only be achieved through close relationships such as the one we have with Kent Police’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking team.
‘Over the last week, our visits to hand car washes and agricultural sites have seen us conduct worker interviews, gather intelligence, and disrupt any potential exploitative behaviour. These areas of the labour market can be especially prone to abuse and exploitation of workers, which makes these operations all the more important.
‘I would encourage the public to make sure that they are aware of the potential signs of labour exploitation and use their knowledge to not only report their concerns, but also to think of the human cost of the services they use so that informed decisions can be made.’