An expert on the issue of slavery and worker exploitation says the nine cases under investigation in our region are merely the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
Prof Gary Craig said he ‘wasn’t surprised’ to hear police and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) are investigating nine cases of slavery and sexual exploitation in the Boston and South Holland area.
“I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“Workers can be threatened by their employer, have their wages deducted and documents confiscated.
“Many are housed in squalid conditions and live in a state of terror.
“These things are actually happening in the byways and highways of Lincolnshire.”
Prof Craig, of Hull University, was called upon in 2012 to speak at a hearing for Boston Borough Council’s inquiry into the impact of immigration on the borough.
He told The Standard there are currently 4-5,000 people in Britain who are victims of slavery and exploitation – adding ‘so I estimate there to be hundreds in the area around The Wash’.
“It’s about time more investigations took place,” he said.
However, he emphasised that due to funding cuts to the GLA – the number of cases being investigated has ‘dropped off significantly’.
Of the nine active cases in the area - the GLA is looking at seven, with police handling the other two.
“The GLA is doing a very good job with very little resources,” Prof Craig said. “Few cases now come before the courts and those that do are often dealt with in a derisory way. It’s a serious offence, and if you are found guilty of forced labour you could be sentenced to a very long term in prison.
“Migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation when they don’t speak much English and are not familiar with the legal system.”
Prof Craig added: “There’s a modern slavery bill going through parliament now – but if the GLA doesn’t get any more resources it’s just going to be a pointless paper exercise.”
A GLA spokesman said migrant workers are ‘easy pickings for ruthless, organised and unscrupulous criminals’.
One case investigated by the GLA involved a man from Prague who jumped at the promise of work in the East Midlands. He ended up living in a three-bedroom semi with 11 other men. He slept on a bare mattress and regularly woke with insect bites.
The man’s controllers had his bank cards. Their wives had frittered away his wages – his weekly pay after ‘stoppages’ was between £5 and £20 when he had actually earned £300.
Fortunately the man and his house mates were rescued after one of them went to the Salvation Army to plead for help.
Those who had exploited him – and their wives – were given prison sentences. It’s estimated those responsible had exploited their workers to the tune of £1.3 million.