Slavery in recycling under spotlight as Birmingham couple charged with trafficking
A Polish couple have been 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’.
Following an investigation by West Midlands Police (WMP), the pair, 32-year-old Tadeusz Ondycz and 26-year-old Marta Dombrowska, from Winson Green in Birmingham, were charged earlier this month (October 13) with human trafficking and holding a person in servitude, as well as one count of fraud by false representation.
WMP says the two accused ‘lured a childhood friend to the UK from Poland and made him work for a pittance’. They are accused of arranging the 47-year-old victim’s travel to the plant and stealing his pay and official documentation while controlling his bank account.
They have been held in custody and are scheduled to appear at Birmingham Crown court on November 10.
Slavery in recycling
The case shares similarities with another slavery raid in the West Midlands a year ago, in which police suspected 12 Polish men to have 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.
Commenting on the North-East case the Crown Prosecution Service said that what little wages the men earned were taken off them, leaving them with “a few pounds a week” to live on. When the victims complained, they were physically abused and threatened.
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 percent to 80 percent 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’.
The Home Office has created new powers to tackle serious labour exploitation and modern slavery. The Immigration Act 2016 created provisions for newly trained officers called Labour Abuse Prevention Officers (LAPOS) who can investigate businesses where evidence suggests serious offences are being committed.
Between May and July 2017 there were 25 operations carried out by LAPOS, the majority of which included operations in the recycling sector, construction, cleaning, hospitality, and fast-food industries.
Following the raid on the two plants in the West Midlands last year, West Midlands Police Inspector Colin Mattinson Mattinson has urged the public to be on the lookout for the signs of illegal activities exploiting foreign nationals.
“We are raising awareness of modern day slavery but it remains a largely hidden crime,” he said. “I’d urge members of the public to look out for tell-tale signs, things like large numbers of people staying in multi-occupancy houses and people being ferried to and from the address on vans or minibuses early in the morning and returning late at night.
“Cruel individuals are making large sums of money on the back of others’ misery – so please call us if you suspect people are being exploited in your community.”