Hundreds of human trafficking victims are being used as slave labour in businesses across Wales, police suspect.
Hotels, restaurants, takeaways, shops, farms, factories and nail bars are under investigation by officers investing “corrupt employment agencies” filtering illegally trafficked people into the workplace, Wales on Sunday can reveal.
Welsh Government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal there are suspect employment agencies “corrupt employment agencies” at the heart of the investigation into human trafficking.
In many cases the firms employing the workers are legitimate, but there were warnings last night that anyone caught using people forced into labour could face years behind bars.
There are about 200 suspected victims of trafficking in North and South Wales, according to a paper written by Wales’ first anti-human trafficking co-ordinator.
Examples cited in ex-cop Bob Tooby’s Government reports include a North Wales food processing factory with more than 100 workers and a South Wales cleaning company using exploiting a potential 52 victims.
Slaves are also being forced to work at cannabis farms and being used as “scapegoats” when the illegal operations are busted, while the traffickers rake in millions of pounds.
A charity which rescues trafficking victims also revealed the shocking case of a Ugandan woman who was last year used as a slave by a Cardiff family and made to live in their basement last year.
Gwent Police’s Deputy Chief Constable Jeff Farrar said the types of enforced labour in Wales were “many and varied”. He added: “What we do find in most cases is that this is a hidden crime.”
DCC Farrar, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on trafficking in Wales, said those responsible ranged from individual perpetrators right the way up to organised crime groups.
“Our grasp on the full picture of what’s happening in and around the UK is not tight enough yet,” he said. “Our aim is to eliminate it from our country and that needs a concerted effort from everybody – the most important thing is to recognise it when they see it.”
Chris Goulden, head of the poverty research team at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s poverty research team, said research had shown there was revealed “blatant exploitation” of migrant workers in the food industry.
Interviews with more than 60 workers across the UK showed many migrants paid fees to traffickers to travel to the UK and secure work, leaving them indebted to their gangmasters.
They often suffer abuse and live in overcrowded, filthy conditions, often with little or no wages.
Mr Goulden said: “Migrants are working under threatening and inhuman conditions for very little or no pay in different parts of the food chain from production and processing through to restaurants.
“The intensity of work in the food industry, driven by economic pressures throughout the supply chain, contributes to such exploitation.”
An Assembly Member leading the crackdown on trafficking in Wales last night warned company bosses caught employing slave labour would be held responsible.
Labour AM Joyce Watson, chair of the All-Party Working Group on Human Trafficking in Wales, last night warned company bosses caught employing slave labour would be held responsible. She said: “The onus is very much on the employers – they can’t shirk from that.
“If you are employing large numbers of people and if they are coming through agencies then you have to be absolutely on the ball to know that they have come through legitimate means.”
She added: “If it is the case that we have got unscrupulous employment agencies operating in Wales then we need to uncover them and make sure they immediately cease operations because ultimately it will end up with people suffering significantly as a consequence of just trying to earn an honest day’s wage.”
DCC Farrar said a multi-agency intelligence hub was due to be launched in Gwent initially focusing on vulnerable runaway girls, but likely to be expanded to include human trafficking.
The idea is to better to share intelligence between authorities such as local councils, health services and charities. This is a key recommendation in Mr Tooby’s final report to ministers, in which he calls for the creation of an All-Wales Intelligence Hub.
A Welsh Government spokesman said consideration of a hub will form part of the next anti-human trafficking co-ordinator’s work.
One woman aged in her mid-30s from Uganda was trafficked into the UK and forced to work as a domestic slave by a Cardiff family.
The woman fled her African homeland last year after suffering abuse she suffered in her African homeland last year because of her same-sex relationship.
Her transport to the UK was organised by a white woman who confiscated her documents once they arrived at Heathrow.
From Paddington station she was driven to a house in Cardiff where she was forced to live in the basement beneath the family home and work as a slave.
“The following morning at 5am she was taken upstairs to do the cleaning before everyone was awake. She was then taken back into the basement and given piles of ironing,” said Dr Mwenya Chimba, of the Black Association of Women Step Out (BAWSO).
The family were described as “middle-class professionals” of either Asian or Arab background.
“She was not allowed to leave the house at all. She was locked in and if she complained she was tired of the ironing, they would actually physically abuse her by pulling her hair and ears,” Dr Chimba said.
“She was fed leftovers, the food was brought to the room. She had no social contact and the only time she left the room was to do the cleaning upstairs.
“The basement had a small toilet, a narrow bed and an ironing board – that was in Cardiff last year and it’s not the only case we’ve had.”
She escaped after three months when the daughter of the family took pity and dropped her off outside the UK Border Agency office on Newport Road.
Dr Mwenya Chimba, of the Black Association of Women Step Out (BAWSO), said the woman has since been granted asylum but the family has never been caught as their victim was unable to say where she was being kept.