Select Committee probe into modern slavery

It’s a hidden crime that slips under the radar and on to the secret pages of the illicit dark web. But the evils of modern slavery in Buckinghamshire are about to come under the full glare of public scrutiny.

County Councillors are launching an inquiry into the scale of modern slavery in Buckinghamshire and how the County Council can help tackle it.

Modern slavery traffickers and slave drivers coerce, deceive and force people into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.

Research across the county last year by University College’s Jill Dando Institute, warned there was potential for exploitation of workers in isolated agricultural jobs, remote factories, and in caring for an increasing ageing population.

And researchers identified focal points for the County Council to target in the fight against modern slavery: liaising with public transport providers to watch for victims who might be fleeing from slave masters, asking delivery drivers who visit remote locations to look out for tell-tale signs of exploitation.

Since then the County Council has worked on an adult exploitation strategy, which will be presented to the Safer Stronger Bucks Partnership Board next month.

However, as members of the County Council’sTransport, Environment and Communities Select Committee heard at a special briefing last week (Tuesday, September 12), people’s awareness of the problem is limited, and exploitation could be much greater than figures show.

At the briefing, addressed by the police and Rahab, an agency from Reading working with modern slavery victims, Select Committee members heard how Thames Valley Police were one of only three forces now taking part in a cyber trial, logging references on Facebook, adult sites, and the dark web, where victims are recruited, to advance their investigations.

Police recorded 150 Buckinghamshire victims between February 2016 and March 2017, highlighting that females are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, whereas males are targeted for labour and forced criminalisation.

So the Select Committee has set the wheels in motion for an inquiry to understand the extent of criminal activity in Buckinghamshire. It will also explore and test how effective the County Council is in training and awareness raising, working with partner agencies, and in supporting victims – all responsibilities it has under the Modern Slavery Act.

Select Committee Chairman David Carroll said: “Exploitation is clearly happening in our communities, particularly among vulnerable people, and there’s a lot we need to learn about just what is going on and how we can respond.

“There is much work going on to help those who are being exploited, and to bring perpetrators to justice, and we want to identify what more we as a County Council can do to help tackle this horrendous criminal activity, and how we can work with agencies, such as Thames Valley Police, who are already doing good work.

“It’s important that we raise awareness among residents, who need to know what concerning signs to look for, how to identify what might be going on, and how to report it. But it’s very clear to us as a Select Committee that there’s little point in raising awareness if there is nothing in place to support the victims of exploitation.”

The scope and timing of the inquiry will be set in the next few weeks.