Modern slavery and exploitation expected to rise over festive season

As a season of giving, eating and abundance, Christmas brings with it an increased risk of vulnerable people being exploited.

Over the festive period, Hope for Justice is urging people to look out for signs which might indicate the presence of modern slavery – a crime which is expected to rise over Christmas and New Year.

The global charity has identified and rescued victims of slavery from warehouses, the catering industry and supermarket supply chains, to name a few, all of which face an increased pressure at this time of year.

Delivery firms are working around the clock to meet the next-day delivery requirements of today’s consumerist culture.

And workers at waste and recycling centres will be sorting through unwanted gifts that are thrown away, wrapping paper, cardboard, food waste and recycling Christmas trees, as well as operating machinery and trying to meet targets.

But behind the scenes, in business supply chains, there is often the hidden existence of labour exploitation, where people are working long hours for little or no pay, to meet the demands.

A Hope for Justice spokesman said: “We have identified victims of slavery in warehouses, where, over the festive season, there will be pressure placed on workers to build pallets, pack and wrap hundreds of thousands of boxes, prepare and distribute gifts and products.

“We have also rescued victims from the catering industry, those working at restaurants and takeaways, which are often busy during the holidays.

“Every product and service that is bought and purchased has been made, sourced, transported and sold.

“And behind many of the gifts that we unwrap over Christmas, the novelty items, cosmetic sets, clothing and gadgets, there will be unsafe working conditions, unfair wages, and exploitation hidden in the supply chains.”

In 2018, there were 6,993 potential victims of slavery identified by the National Referral Mechanism in the UK.

Worldwide, an estimated 24.9 million people are trapped in forced labour, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude. However, modern slavery is a hidden crime and the actual number of victims is believed to be much higher.

The National Crime Agency says that the prevalence of modern slavery increases over the Christmas period, fuelled by the increased used of services.

This month, Hertfordshire Constabulary launched a campaign to raise awareness of the risks specifically posed to homeless people by traffickers and exploiters.

Hertfordshire Police urged people, businesses and professionals to look out for the signs that someone is being exploited, and to report concerns.

Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said: “For many of us, Christmas is a time of year to spend time with loved ones. During the festive season, I would urge the public and frontline professionals to look out for signs that a homeless person may have been exploited or is at risk of becoming so.”

Some warning signs to look out for, which may indicate modern slavery:

  • Is the person fearful, anxious or injured?
  • Do they appear traumatised, or have their money or documentation controlled by someone else?
  • Are they without ID?
  • Are they unable to speak English?
  • Do they seem to be in debt to someone?

Call 999 in an emergency. To speak to Hope for Justice, call (+44) 0300 008 8000 (local rate call) or email