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Tuesday 18 October 2016, 12:24 PM

Agencies in Gloucestershire are asking the public to be alert to the warning signs of modern day slavery and human trafficking.

The appeal comes on this year's national anti-slavery day (Tuesday 18 October), which is aiming to raise awareness of modern slavery and to inspire government, businesses and individuals to eliminate it.

In Gloucestershire an anti-slavery board was established earlier this year, bringing together partner agencies including Gloucestershire County Council, local councils, the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, Gloucestershire Action for Refugees & Asylum Seekers and Gloucestershire Police. The First Local Economic Partnership, Church of England and Catholic Church are also represented.

The board is committed to tackling modern day slavery and trafficking and is part of a regional board that looks at national and local trends, threats, risks and best practice in tackling the issue.

Amongst the activity that has been under way in recent weeks, police have been focusing on the threat of sexual exploitation, where victims are forced into prostitution and controlled through threats, violence and debt bondage. 

Officers have been visiting nail bars and hotels in the county to help businesses, staff and customers understand the issue of human trafficking and encourage reporting.

This work comes on the back of visits earlier this year to car washes in the county to tackle the issue of forced labour. In some cases gangmasters have run such businesses, effectively treating workers as slaves - housing them in squalid, overcrowded accommodation and paying them next to nothing. 

Meanwhile, Gloucestershire County Council are set to hold a training day for professionals from different agencies who may come into contact with those who are being exploited.

The training day will include talks from experts in the field and the charity Unseen, which supports survivors and helps them rebuild their lives.

Pete Bungard, chief executive of Gloucestershire County Council and chair of the Gloucestershire Anti-Slavery Partnership, said: “Slavery is not an issue confined to history – it is still happening in the 21st century. Modern slavery can take many forms - from forced labour to sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

“It often goes unseen and all organisations across Gloucestershire are working together to make sure we recognise the signs and take action." 

Detective Chief Inspector Gavin Webb said: "Human trafficking can take many forms and involves victims from all over the world and the UK – trafficking includes moving people within the country as well as from outside.

"We have had several high profile investigations in the past in Gloucestershire involving sexual exploitation that show it can happen in any community, anywhere in the country. 

"The nature of the problem has shifted in recent years though and often offenders use hotels and rented apartments as bases for sexual exploitation and some nail bars and car washes for forced labour. Our recent action has been about getting the message out there that this is happening, gathering intelligence and making sure people and businesses can recognise the signs.

"We're still gathering information about the extent of the issue here but by way of an indication, nationally in 2013 Crimestoppers had 1743 referrals from across the UK about slavery or forced labour.

"The signs of exploitation can be found in detail at www.modernslavery.co.uk and more information is available atwww.unseenuk.org but in general people should be on the lookout for workers who may show the signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished, unkempt or withdrawn.”

Throughout anti-slavery day, agencies across Gloucestershire will be using social media to send out messages about the problem.

Partners will also be supporting the Unseen "Let's Nail It" campaign throughout the week, which will see people painting their nails neon, taking a photo and placing it on social media, using the hashtag #letsnailit and donating to the charity. The aim is to get 13,000 people to paint their nails (one for every victim in the UK, as estimated by the Home Office).  More details here: www.unseenuk.org/support-us/let-s-nail-it

Anyone who suspects human trafficking or has any concerns someone is being exploited can call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111, or the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121700.