A member of staff at the Snowdrop Project tells their story about spotting the signs of modern slavery and ringing the Modern Slavery Helpline.
It’s safe to say I live in an unremarkable area; my street is lined with trees, full of semi-detached houses with a car sitting outside each one of them. It’s an average street with average neighbours – who tend to keep themselves to themselves. But several things in this ordinary suburb began to catch my eye, and started to make me feel a little uncomfortable.
Around three weeks ago, I was returning home from a run. Sweaty and out of breath I plodded down my road at an attempt to ‘cool down’ when I noticed the bins outside a house at the top of my road – they were so full they overflowed with rubbish. I thought it was a bit odd, after all our bins had only been collected five days previously. This made me think, I had never seen anyone leave or enter this house before. But I continued past and put it down to the fact they must have missed this week’s bin collection.
Later that same week I arrived home and struggled to park my car, to my annoyance I noticed a large mini bus with a Romanian number plate, which didn’t normally park on my road, taking up a huge amount of space.
A week later, after this van’s continued but sporadic presence outside the house with the brimming bins, I noticed the same white van at our local supermarket. I was intrigued to see who owned the van that was taking up precious parking spaces. I was taken aback. It wasn’t just one person who got out the van – but several men between the ages of 20 and 50, all wearing quite scruffy clothing. They all went into the shop whilst one man hung back waiting by the van, smoking a cigarette. It solved the mystery of the bulging bins.
Through coincidence, I found myself behind the van when I pulled onto my road. As I unloaded my shopping from the car, I counted 9 men getting out of the van all of whom went straight into the house looking exhausted, dirty and skittish. For me, something didn’t feel quite right.
Alarm bells began to go off in my mind; except from in the supermarket, I hadn’t seen any of these men apart from when getting in and out of the van. I know the signs of modern slavery and for me I felt there were these indicators:
Is their movement being restricted?
Are they reliant on their ’employer’ for transport?
Is their accommodation linked to an ‘employer’?
Are they being made to shop somewhere they might not have chosen?
Even though I work in anti-trafficking I must be honest, I felt fleeting apprehension about calling the Modern Slavery Helpline. I felt like they might think I was overreacting. I weighed it up in my mind; I know how useful even the smallest bit of information can be for identifying potential victims of modern slavery.Even if those men were completely fine, I couldn’t sleep without reporting my concerns to people who can make further investigations into their well-being.
I opened the website and reported my concerns to the Modern Slavery Helpline. They responded within hours via email and asked me to call on a free helpline. The person I spoke to was not judgemental and reassured me that my concerns were valid, I could make the report completely anonymously and I felt relieved knowing that they would follow it up.
I hope that it is nothing and that those 9 men are not being exploited; that they have the freedom to leave the house when they want, that they are being paid a fair wage and that their accommodation is of a decent standard. However, if it isn’t, I know that the people who can help know where they live and the number plate of the van they are being transported in.
If you’re concerned someone maybe being exploited or want to learn more about spotting the signs and reporting a concern, go to the Modern Slavery Helpline here.