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Two more arrested as anti-slavery police raid Barking recycling plant

Two people have been arrested after a recycling plant in East London was raided by anti-slavery police last week as part of a week of action looking into labour exploitation in the capital.

Investigators from the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade visited the unnamed site in Barking on Wednesday (15 November) and the two Indian nationals were ‘arrested from the site on suspicion of immigration offences’.

The GLAA, formed following the deaths of 23 cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004, has recently had its powers extended. While it used to regulate businesses that provide workers to the fresh produce supply chain and horticulture industry to make sure they meet the employment standards, from May this year it has been able to investigate all forms of abuse in the labour market across England and Wales.

The week of action saw the agency, alongside police and fire crews and the Health and Safety Executive and the government’s National Minimum Wage Unit, raid three separate operations.

“While we have discovered some serious issues and laid the foundations for some solid working practices with key partner agencies, we know we have barely started to scratch the surface of the exploitation that exists in our capital,” said GLAA Head of UK Operations Ian Waterfield.

“As an intelligence-led organisation we need the public to provide us with information about labour abuse, financial and physical exploitation and possible modern slavery offences. We can and we will investigate but we can’t without help from the public.”

The recycling industry is one heavily targeted by human traffickers. A spokesperson for the charity Hope for Justice, which campaigns to eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery, told Resource that according to their investigators’ best estimates ‘about 70 to 80 per cent of the forced labour victims it has helped in the UK have been exploited within the recycling or waste processing industry at some point during their trafficking experience’.

In October, a Polish couple were charged with slavery offences at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court following allegations that a 47-year-old was trafficked to a recycling plant in Birmingham and forced to ‘work for a pittance’.

That case shared similarities with another slavery raid in the West Midlands a year ago, in which police suspected that 12 Polish men had been trafficked and paid as little as £1 an hour at two recycling plants run by CAP recycling.

More recently, in June four gang members were sentenced to a total of 32 years in prison after being found guilty of trafficking and exploiting Polish workers at recycling plants in the North East. 

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