Belfast Telegraph

Attitude change to 'slavery' urged

The head of a body which licenses gangmasters in Britain has called upon the judiciary to change its attitude to modern slavery to quash perceptions that criminals have been granted open season.

Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) chief executive Paul Broadbent criticised a judge after he ruled that a case where migrant workers laboured for £1 a week did not involve slavery.

The Home Office has said there could be between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery in the UK, higher than previous figures.

Mr Broadbent said: "It is my belief that attitudes amongst parts of the judiciary need to change to reflect the modern reality of modern slavery and to prevent the perception of open season for some criminals."

The GLA aims to protect workers in industries like agriculture and fishing. In one high profile Scottish case, workers at sea who never set foot on land "did not exist" for official purposes and were exploited, the former senior police officer said.

In another case heard late last month in London prosecutors said Ivars Mezals, 28, and Juris Valujevs, 36, used fear and debt to exploit migrant workers picking leeks, cabbages and broccoli in Cambridgeshire.

Even though they performed backbreaking labour for as little as £1 a week a judge said the issue was not modern slavery as he jailed two Latvian gangmasters for almost three years late last month.

Mr Broadbent said: "I was staggered and had the misfortune to be there.

"That is the kind of height of the mountain that we collectively need to climb and it is testament that both ministers are here today pledging their support."

He attended a conference in Newry, Co Down, during which justice ministers from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland said steps were being taken to crack down on forced labour and wider problems with trafficking.

The former Nottinghamshire officer said another 1.1 million temporary workers did not have the same sort of protection his GLA organisation provided.

He said often victims were trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation and then sent to labour and when they become unable to do so they were forced to shoplift.

"It is dual and triple forms of exploitation.

"Lives are wrecked and ruined, sometimes for some of them there is no way back."

He said more exploitation was being established in urban areas.

"Some criminals are lazy, they don't want to travel to the countryside to supervise so they get them into the inner city where they have other 'business interests' ongoing and can feed them into legitimate supply chains."

He said agriculture received a lot of publicity for bad practice but the industry had worked really hard to improve.

"There is much worse and more prevalent and complex labour exploitation in other areas apart from agriculture."

He said often victims felt they were better off than they had been in their countries of origin, which was a problem for law enforcement.

In Latvia and Lithuania there is no GLA but in other countries there is an international network of inspectorates.

The GLA has stepped up its co-operation with the authorities in the Republic of Ireland.

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