Be aware of the signs of slavery during fruit picking season

Justice Minister Naomi Long has urged people to be aware of the signs of human trafficking and modern slavery during fruit picking season.

Saturday, 11th July 2020, 12:06 pm

At this time of year many food processing, rural businesses and farmers need to recruit workers. While a majority of labour providers operate legitimately, those who are unlicensed may take advantage of vulnerable workers. In the worst cases, workers could be forced into situations of exploitation or even trafficked into modern slavery.Businesses and the public can all play a part in recognising the indicators of slavery and reporting where they suspect there is a crime.

The Minister said: “It is completely abhorrent that slavery, in any form, is happening in Northern Ireland. I feel strongly that by raising awareness of the indicators of slavery and human trafficking people can feel more confident about spotting and reporting suspicious activity.

“We are all living through an unprecedented health emergency and sadly some will seek to take advantage of the unique circumstances of lockdown and the subsequent recovery phase. We must ensure all steps are taken to protect vulnerable people from being taken advantage of during this or any other time.”

Detective Inspector Mark Bell from PSNI’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) said: “Modern slavery is often an unseen crime as victims can be afraid to speak out or may be being held captive. Victims may be trafficked in from other countries and may have language barriers which prevent them from communicating with police or others who could help.

“Labour exploitation is a common form of exploitation. Most of the time, the victims are forced to carry out work or receive little or no payment for their efforts. Tell-tale signs that someone is a victim of modern slavery vary depending on the type of exploitation but there are things to look out for which are common across all forms of modern slavery. These include:

• Someone who can’t produce their passport or personal documents

• Someone who is unsure of their home address or the local area

• Someone who is distrustful of authorities as traffickers may have told victims that police will be violent towards them

• Someone who has no access to medical treatment

• Someone who appears to be under the control of others or always has someone else speak on their behalf

• An over-crowded house or flat with a regular turnover of new occupants

• Someone who may not have cash as they don’t get to keep the money that they earn

Detective Inspector Mark Bell continued: “Modern slavery denies victims their human right to life, safety and freedom. The criminals prey on vulnerable people, control them by fear and exploit them for their own selfish gains. I’m asking everyone to be our eyes and ears and help stop this unacceptable crime.

“I would urge people to visit the Human Trafficking page on PSNI’s website for more information on the signs to look out for. I would also ask people to help stop this unacceptable crime and contact us with any suspicions that they may have by calling 999 if it’s an emergency, 101 or the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. One call could end the misery for a victim who you may have encountered working as part of your daily routine.”

Michael Rich, Chief Executive of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, said: “It’s precisely because we have seen unscrupulous labour providers exploiting workers within the agriculture sector that it is one of the areas that require a licence to employ workers. We’re also acutely aware that the current pandemic could create the conditions for more workers to be exploited, given the pressure to keep supply chains open for consumers and ensure crops are picked. Forced and compulsory labour, in whatever form it takes, is illegal and rightly carries heavy penalties. We continue to work with our partners across Northern Ireland to protect vulnerable workers.”