Two people have been arrested following an investigation into the alleged exploitation of Lithuanian workers.
The probe followed allegations made by Lithuanian men working in the food industry who claimed they were being forced to live in squalid conditions and threatened with violence if they did not comply with their supervisor’s instructions.
Working in partnership with the Gangmaster Licensing Authority and UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC), Kent Police executed a warrant at a property in Maidstone on Friday.
A man aged 52 and a woman aged 50, both from the Maidstone area, were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking for labour exploitation offences.
Detective Inspector Keith Roberts said: “The arrests form part of an extensive investigation by Kent Police, The GLA and UKHTC.
“It follows on from reports received that migrant workers have been made to live in poor conditions and forced to work in an environment that gave little or no regard to their safety or general wellbeing.
“By working with our partner agencies we have been able to make these arrests and workers will now be offered help and support.
“Anyone found to be committing exploitation offences will be investigated fully and brought before the courts.”
Chief executive of the Gangmaster Licensing Authority, Ian Livsey, said: “We are determined to drive out those ruthless people who abuse and exploit vulnerable workers.
“Working with our partner agencies we have cracked down on potential exploitation in the food supply chain. There is no hiding place for those who exploit the vulnerable, and neither we nor our partner law enforcement agencies will tolerate abuse of the vulnerable worker.”
Deputy head of the UK Human Trafficking Centre at the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Liam Vernon, said: “We suspect the people arrested today were involved in the trafficking of Lithuanian men into the United Kingdom for exploitation within the food industry.
“It’s alleged that the men, who will now receive specialist care and support from SOCA’s Vulnerable Persons Team and the Salvation Army, were subjected to slave-like conditions and controlled through the use of violence.
“Investigating trafficking for labour exploitation is a challenge to us all as victims are kept locked away and unseen by society. Last year 461 adult and child victims were encountered by frontline professionals and reported to the centre. They were being used for their labour in many different ways, all for the financial gain of the traffickers.
“We will continue to work with our partners to bring offenders to justice and protect vulnerable members of our society. I urge anybody with information than can lead to the identification and rescue of a victim of trafficking to share it with the police.”