POLICE SCOTLAND are cracking down on human trafficking by paying surprise visits to companies all over the country to find employees who may be victims.
The new ‘welfare checks’ will not be intelligence-led, meaning any firm across the country could be targeted – nail bars in Glasgow have already been subject to checks.
Police will focus on industries that have a reputation for employing victims of trafficking such as hotels, farming, fishing and construction.
These include Edinburgh’s saunas, which have been the subject of police attention in recent months, raids over the summer were linked to exploitation and human trafficking.
The latest Home Office figures show a slight rise in trafficking referrals, up from 93 in 2011, to 96 in Scotland last year.
The most common nationality of victims coming to Scotland is Chinese, followed by Vietnamese and Filipino.
This year, 82 victims of trafficking have been found – 47 women, 21 men and 14 under-18s – seven girls and seven boys.
Of 29 under-18s forced into Scotland, 11 went into Labour, nine were sexually exploited, and five ended up in domestic servitude.
Detective Chief Inspector Ruth Gilfillan, of Police Scotland’s National HUman Trafficking Unit, said: “I go looking for victims. We don’t wait for them to come to us.
“It takes a very brave person to come out and say ‘I’ve been trafficked,’ so we are looking at some of the crimes and some of the industries, where they may find themselves being exploited.”
The nail bars in Glasgow have already been targeted, and the regional human trafficking champions are now set to visit all types of firms across their area.
On the nail bar industry, Gilfillan added: “I can’t say that is intrinsically linked with human trafficking, or the labour industry, or the construction world.
“But we have to improve the procedures we have in place. That means going out looking for victims.
“We will be asking questions like ‘where are your documents, how much money do you have?’
“If people don’t have documents or money, don’t make eye contact, or have a fear of authority, that person is a possible victim of trafficking.”
Police Scotland has ramped up its focus on human trafficking since the launch of the single force in April, creating a national unit dedicated to the problem.
Officers now believe that victims are less likely to come forward than those of other crimes,such as rape or domestic abuse.
Human trafficking campaigners have been calling for tougher laws to help tackle the crime and protect victims.
The Scottish Government plans to introduce a human trafficking aggravation law, which means tougher sentences for crimes in which human trafficking was a factor.
Jenny Marra, Labour MSP, welcomed the police welfare checks but believes the measure does not go far enough.
She said: “I am delighted to see Police Scotland taking proactive steps to tackle human trafficking in our communities.
“However, I believe we need to empower police with better laws.
“That is why I have proposed new legislation for Scotland that will embed the international gold standard definition of human trafficking into our law, so that police have the best possible chance of identifying victims and catching traffickers.”
Graham O’Neill, an expert on human trafficking in Scotland, added: “Police Scotland are right to approach to remind legitimate businesses in sectors that are known to have links with trafficking.
“However, any approach must keep an eye out and minimise unintended consequences of victims being driven more underground, as well as being alive to the possibility that where illicit activities are found some perceived offender may, actually, be committing criminals acts as a manifestation of their trafficked predicament.
“With these safeguards in place, the proactive approach may prove effective.”