Mark Burns-Williamson: We all have part to play in tackling modern slavery

WITHIN the last few days, modern slavery and the trauma suffered by victims has quite rightly made headlines.

19th February 2013. Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire Mark Burns-Williamson.

First, the conviction and jailing of Jozef Sztojka as a result of another West Yorkshire Police landmark investigation.

Leeds District Human Trafficking Team investigated after he lured a 51-year-old woman to Leeds from Hungary and forced her to work as a prostitute. It is a landmark case as it is the first conviction of human trafficking for sexual exploitation at Leeds Crown Court.

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Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, then released a report highlighting the rising number of exploited Vietnamese workers in nail bars, alongside the use of Vietnamese workers in cannabis farms.

Jozef Sztojka.

That report makes for difficult reading and shows the reality for many. While some workers have paid smugglers to bring them to the UK from impoverished parts of rural Vietnam, others, mostly children, have been tricked into exploitation.

The report says there is evidence that some have been kidnapped and brought to the UK against their will. Once again, this brings home the brutal reality for many subjected to modern slavery which, sadly, globally ranks as one of the most lucrative businesses for organised criminal groups. This crime is a violation of human rights, denying men women and children of their right to life, freedom and security.

Criminal gangs are taking advantage of vulnerable people across the world. Human beings are deceived by traffickers promising them a better life then forcing them into slavery, ruthlessly exploiting them for profit. And we all have to play our part in disrupting the networks and protecting the vulnerable who have been ensnared, exploited and then subjected to lives of abject misery.

We can do this through education and awareness raising. General indicators can include signs of physical or psychological abuse, fear of authorities, no ID documents, poor living conditions and working long hours for little or no pay.

Jozef Sztojka.

I support calls to regulate the nail bar industry as it is yet another area of business where perpetrators are exploiting vulnerable individuals causing them untold misery and pain. It is our job, as the report highlights, to Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare in this environment.

I will be making contact with the National Police Chiefs Council to see how police and crime commissioners can assist in that process through the work of the National Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery Network (NATMSN) which I lead and chair.

The network, which is due to meet next month, has been established to focus on human trafficking and modern slavery issues. It is a vital platform to enable them to hold their forces to account more effectively.

I am determined to see all crime commissioners work together with their police forces, partners and communities to tackle these abhorrent criminal activities, support victims and bring offenders to justice.

I am also supporting the Police Transformation Modern Slavery Programme being led by Devon and Cornwall Police which is using an £8.5m investment from this fund to help transform how we deal with trafficking and modern slavery across all police forces in England and Wales.

In West Yorkshire, this issue first came to my attention after I was elected in 2012, when the force saw an increase in human trafficking investigations and other crimes involving public protection.

I realised there needed to be an appropriate response to support this challenge and I made available an additional £3.5m to West Yorkshire Police to increase their capacity. This included the establishment of a designated team to solely investigate human trafficking, and at the time the team was created, it was one of only two dedicated teams in the country. That is why we can and do secure convictions like the one mentioned at the outset. It is acknowledged that effectively tackling modern slavery and human trafficking requires a partnership response from us all.

Across West Yorkshire, there are many dedicated agencies, including the police, community safety partnerships and groups like Hope for Justice, Palm Cove Society and Invisible Traffik, who work tirelessly here to drive forward the anti-slavery effort. I commend their pioneering work and efforts so far in this area.

This has never been a more complex issue and of such a scale. However, if we are to truly understand the nature and scale of this threat and respond effectively, law enforcement and other agencies must contribute to building a clear intelligence picture to respond effectively and consistently.

Again, we all have to play our part in protecting our most vulnerable and bringing those who intentionally cause such harm and suffering to justice.

If you have information or suspicions about someone being exploited or trafficked or need support, call the Modern Slavery helpline on 08000 121 700.

Mark Burns-Williamson is the police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire.